The German weekly news magazine Der Spiegel has published an article about an Open Letter by 100 renowned China experts, researchers and human-rights activists across the globe who are calling for a suspension of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI).
The experts are demanding an end to the EU-China investment agreement, naming serious human rights violations and the suppression of democracy movements in China as the reasons.
“Despite evidence of ethnic cleansing, forced labour, and other gross human rights violations, the leadership of the European institutions have chosen to sign an agreement which exacts no meaningful commitments from the Chinese government to guarantee an end to crimes against humanity or slavery,” reads the open letter to the EU institutions.
On 30th December the European Commission completed seven years of negotiations with China. “Today’s agreement is an important landmark in our relationship with China and for our values-based trade agenda,” von der Leyen said.
The agreement is to improve access to the Chinese market for European companies and ensure fair competition. The agreement has not yet entered into force and must still be ratified by the European Parliament. The signatories to the open letter are eager to prevent this ratification from ever happening.
The deal is “based on a naïve set of assumptions about the character of the Chinese Communist Party,” the letter reads, and “entrenches Europe’s existing strategic dependency on China and runs counter to Europe’s core values.” Even the current degree of dependency, the authors write, is “alarming.” They argue that Chinese state-owned companies took advantage of the period following the 2008 financial crisis “to buy substantial stakes in key European infrastructure.”
“Furthermore, it is delusional to imagine that China will keep promises on these issues of investment and trade when it has broken its promises so regularly in recent years,” the letter reads. As examples, the authors cite the suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, forced labour camps for the Muslim Uyghur minority, the most recent sanctions Beijing has imposed on Australia and sabre rattling in the direction of Taiwan.
Among the signatories are researchers from the London School of Economics and from Princeton University in addition to Dolkun Isa, president of the World Uyghur Congress, who lives in Germany. Former Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata and Harriet Evans, a professor at the University of Westminster and an expert in gender and human rights issues in China, have also joined the effort.
The signatories are calling on the European Union “to immediately withdraw from the China-European Union Comprehensive Agreement on Investment” and to place any further negotiations on hold until “substantial and verifiable” progress has been made on the human rights situation in the country.
Andreas Fulda, one of the initiators of the letter and a senior fellow with the Asia Research Institute at the University of Nottingham, says: “The European Commission is acting as though it is possible to separate politics and the economy, which in the case of China is impossible.”
China expert Mareike Ohlberg, a senior fellow with the Asia Program of the German Marshall Fund, likewise accuses Brussels of ingenuousness. “They are trying to sell the agreement as a success. It has thus become apparent that there is a lack of understanding about China’s reliability as a treaty partner.”
The question of the human rights behaviour of the EU’s trading partners is particularly poignant today “World Holcaust Day” as we remember the Holocaust, and how the most terrible crimes were committed against humanity in the concentration camps of the Third Reich. Auschwitz was liberated exactly 76 years ago.
The parallels with the internment camps for Uyghurs in Xinjiang province in China are stark. We must show in Europe that we have learnt from the harsh lessons of history, and refuse to allow such behaviour to be tolerated in today’s world. Our culture, our freedom, and our democratic principles are more important than business and the economy.