China must lift sanctions to save EU investment pact, EU parliament to say

FILE PHOTO: Picture shows European Union flags fluttering outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, in this file picture taken October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo

May 19, 2021

By John Chalmers and Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – China must remove its sanctions on European Union politicians and diplomats if Beijing wants a new investment accord with Brussels to be approved, EU lawmakers are set to say on Thursday according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

Beijing’s punitive measures, blocking travel to China and business with its companies, were imposed in March in response to Western sanctions against Chinese officials accused of the mass detentions of Muslim Uyghurs in northwestern China.

EU lawmakers say the Chinese sanctions are not based on international law, while the bloc’s measures tackle abuses of human rights upheld in United Nations treaties.

Beijing denies any wrongdoing.

The European Parliament is set to approve its resolution saying that the approval process of the investment pact in the EU has “justifiably been frozen because the Chinese sanctions are in place”, according to the draft.

The parliament “demands that China lift the sanctions before dealing with (the investment accord)”, the draft said. “EU-China relations may not continue business as usual,” it said.

The resolution, which is not binding but has political weight among the EU’s 27 governments, means the pact agreed in late December cannot proceed because the sanctions affect some of the EU lawmakers involved in negotiations for approval.

Voting is due on Thursday from 1430 GMT.

The impasse is a setback for both China and the EU. Agreement on the pact followed seven years of negotiations and would allow greater protection of European investment and intellectual property rights in China. China was hoping for improved international standing as a fair and respectful trading partner, European diplomats say.

The parliament will say that no other EU trade agreement negotiations in Asia should be affected by the dispute with Beijing.

Activists and U.N. rights experts say at least 1 million Muslims are detained in camps in Xinjiang. The activists and some Western politicians accuse China of using torture, forced labour and sterilisations. China denies rights abuses in Xinjiang and says its camps provide vocational training and are needed to fight extremism.

(Reporting by John Chalmers by Robin Emmott)