The European Parliament's decision on Thursday to freeze efforts to ratify the landmark China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment until China lifts the sanctions on some EU lawmakers and other entities is nothing but a desperate attempt to use the agreement as a tool to browbeat China.
Although the European Union's move does not necessarily mean the CAI is dead, it does push the consensus on the agreement reached after seven long years of negotiations into a dead end.
The sanctions China imposed on the EU side in late March were in response to those the EU levied on Chinese individuals and other entities citing the so-called human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region as the reason, when the fact is that the European bloc's allegations are baseless and politically motivated, and a blatant interference in China's internal affairs.
China had no choice but to defend its sovereignty and core interests. After all, sanction is a game that two can play. And incidentally, the EU lawmakers and other entities China levied sanctions on are infamous for fabricating lies about Xinjiang or labeling groundless charges against China which threaten the healthy development of Sino-EU relations.
The negotiations on the CAI between China and the EU concluded at the end of last year were held on an equal footing and based on mutual respect, but the agreement is not a gift from the EU to China. In fact, it could be the other way round, as the EU is mired in a “double dip” recession and desperately needs an economic booster like the CAI while, on the other hand, China was the only major economy to achieve positive growth last year and its GDP grew 18.3 percent in the first quarter of this year. Also, China's GDP in 2020 accounted for 18.3 percent of the global total compared with 12 percent of the 19-nation eurozone, as per the International Monetary Fund.
As such, by holding the CAI as hostage to subjugate China, the EU, in effect, is hurting itself. For China will never compromise on its core interests no matter how much it cherishes the agreement or respects the commitments the two sides have made.
In the face of rising unilateralism and protectionism in certain economies, especially the United States, China and the EU stood together to uphold multilateralism and oppose the politicization of economic and trade issues. However, once the new US administration took office in January and President Joe Biden announced “America is back” on the global stage, some EU politicians reverted to their old playbook of China-bashing, ignoring the fact that, by doing so, they will deal a heavy blow to not only Sino-EU relations but also the economic recovery of the EU and the rest of the world.
While the administration is forcing Brussels to choose sides between Washington and Beijing, China hopes the EU makes the right side choice, keeping in mind that the US is trying to drive a wedge between China and the EU to fulfill its own narrow goals. Not to mention that, by siding with the US, the EU will betray its principle of pursuing independent diplomacy and undermine China-EU cooperation on other fronts including climate change.
China remains open to further talks with the EU on the ratification of the CAI, but it would be naive for the EU politicians to assume the Chinese side is desperate for the ratification of the agreement. The EU's move to leverage the CAI to coerce China into compromising its core interests lays bare the bloc's hypocrisy and will only serve the interests of those China hawks in Washington.