The European parliament has signalled fierce opposition to taking forward a market access treaty with China by calling it frozen, in a sign of mounting tensions between the two.
Maps voted by an overwhelming majority on Thursday to stop the ratification of the mooted pact due to retaliatory sanctions imposed by China on European parliamentarians, academics, thinktanks and diplomats.
Thursday’s resolution was passed with 599 votes in favour, 30 against and 58 abstentions.
While the vote does not carry legal force, it shows the hurdle to implement the deal, which requires EU parliament’s approval. It also shows a shift in EU’s view of the accord, which was agreed to on a political level only in December.
Beijing slapped on the sanctions in a response to EU asset freezes and travel bans imposed on four Chinese officials and a security organisation over mass internments and persecution of Uyghur Muslims. China’s measures are aimed at high-profile critics of its policies, but also included EU institutional bodies such as the bloc’s Political and Security Committee made up of ambassadors from the 27 member states.
ReinhardBütikofer, a German Green MEP who chairs the EU parliament’s China delegation and was one of those placed under sanctions, said the legislature would not budge. He said Beijing’s efforts to police the global conversation on China were as ridiculous as they are arrogant, and they will fail. He added that China has miscalculated by putting up sanctions and that it should rethink and learn from its mistakes.
Pedro Marques, a MEP from Portugal said China had been guilty of an attack against European democracy, and declared that they will not tolerate it.
This investment agreement row underlines a growing EU debate over Chjna policy as the US seeks to build international alliances to counter China in areas such as security and trade. The European bloc is expanding its own armoury of economic weapons, including proposals to bar some state-subsidised foreign companies from the EU single market.
Sigrid Kaag, Netherland’s trade minister said her country very much supported the EU parliaments move on the investment deal. She pointed to growing political pressures from China as a Dutch MP from her own party has been put on the sanctions list. She called for better coordination between EU institutions to set a coherent policy on China.
The investment deal was long sought by the EU and would open opportunities for EU companies operating in China’s market, while attempting to address longstanding complaints of unfair treatment. Industries that would — on paper — enjoy improved terms of access include the automotive sector, private healthcare, cloud computing and ancillary services for air transport.