Chinese Prime Minister Meet Chengdu business leaders to seek EU-China trade support

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2018-08-09T053046Z_1_LYNXMPEE780D8_RTROPTP_4_CHINA-EU-700x420.jpg
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang at the China–EU Business Roundtable at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 16, 2018. Li will head a revamped “leadership group” focused on policies to develop China’s tech sectors. (Ng Han Guan/Pool via Reuters)

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met with representatives of foreign companies operating in China in an effort to persuade investors that the country is still fostering a favourable climate for international trade.

On April 20, representatives from Germany, France, the Netherlands, Hungary, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, and other countries will meet in response to the EU parliament’s refusal to ratify a European Union–China investment agreement last month.

The EU’s decision last month to boycott Xinjiang cotton triggered counter-sanctions from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), further jeopardising any trade agreement.

During the meeting at the China–European Center in Chengdu, which has drawn more than 170 foreign institutions and companies to invest and locate in Sichuan province, Li praised the business leaders for their contributions to China’s “modernization” and “recovery of the global economy” following the CCP virus pandemic.

“China will continue to open to the outside world, and the door will open wider and wider,” Li said. He promised that China would “continue to develop a market-oriented, legalised, and internationalised business climate.”

“Companies from all countries are treated fairly, and fair competition is guaranteed,” he said.

Li’s visit came just days after Chinese President Xi Jinping held a video conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on April 16. The video meeting served as a warm-up for the Earth Day world leaders’ summit on climate issues. During the meeting, Xi urged the EU to ratify the EU–China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), which was reached last December after seven years of negotiations. To be effective, the CAI must be ratified by the EU Parliament.

However, neither Merkel nor Macron have replied to Xi’s call for ratification.

In March, the EU sanctioned many Chinese communist officials engaged in genocide and human rights violations against Uyghur minorities in Xinjiang. The Chinese regime swiftly retaliated by sanctioning ten European politicians and academics, including five leading EU Parliament members whose votes are needed to ratify the EU–China investment agreement, as well as four bodies, including the EU Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights.

Raphael Glucksmann, a French member of the European Parliament and longtime French human rights advocate, told Voice of America that the CCP’s restrictions on the human rights subcommittee are “a sanction on the democratic institution of the Parliament.”

Beijing also said it was sanctioning the EU’s Political and Security Committee, which comprises 27 EU ambassadors.

Many EU legislators were outraged by the sanctions. The EU Parliament then postponed a meeting to negotiate ratification of the CAI after influential parliamentarians threatened not to ratify the EU–China investment treaty.

Three of the EU’s four largest parties have stated that they will not negotiate the agreement until the CCP’s sanctions are lifted.

“It seems unlikely that our Parliament will even consider ratifying an agreement when its members and one of its committees was sanctioned,” said Marie-Pierre Vedrenne, a Parliament member representing France and the Libertarian party Renew Europe’s point-person on the EU–China deal.

Critics argue that a deal with China would give China-based state-owned firms, which could receive government subsidies, preferential access to European markets, as the Chinese communist regime continues to crack down on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Merkel and Macron have been among the EU’s most vocal supporters of an investment agreement with China, despite resistance from other EU members such as Italy, Belgium, Spain, and Poland.

Merkel, who is worried about car dealers’ exposure to China, is stepping down in September, and her SPD has slumped in recent election polls, with the opposition Greens party holding a polling lead. Annalena Baerbock, the Greens’ nominee for chancellor, has promised to be tough on China’s human rights abuses.

In a recent written statement, the Greens argued against the CAI: “Trade is a strong lever for defending and strengthening human rights and fundamental democratic principles.” Unfortunately, the EU-China investment deal, hastily signed by the German government at the end of last year, contradicts this very goal. ”

Domestically, Macron is also facing public scrutiny and heavy opposition to the CAI in the run-up to next year’s presidential election.

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