Pleas increase for EU to ditch PRC investment deal after more Hong Kong arrests
The Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) widening crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement is prompting mounting calls for the European Union (EU) to reconsider its new investment deal with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) — even before the potentially lucrative pact has been formally approved.
“If this deal goes ahead, it will make a mockery of Europe’s ambitions to be taken seriously as a global political and economic player,” Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, said hours after more than 50 opposition lawmakers and activists in the city were arrested on subversion charges January 6, 2021. “It spits in the face of human rights and shows a delusional view of the Chinese Communist Party’s trustworthiness on the international stage.”
With the world distracted by a pandemic that is under investigation for emerging in China, the CCP “has further turned the screw in Hong Kong,” Patten said in a statement issued by Hong Kong Watch, a United Kingdom-based human rights group of which he is a patron. “Liberal democracies around the world must continue to speak out against this brutal destruction of a free society as well as about the ethnic genocide in Xinjiang.”
The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment was approved in principle December 30, 2020, following a videoconference involving European leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping. That capped seven years of negotiations over the deal, which requires ratification by the European Parliament.
The EU said the deal will help balance its trade relationship with the PRC — estimated at more than U.S. $1.2 billion a day — by easing access to restricted Chinese market sectors, including health equipment manufacturing and international maritime services. “European companies operating in China do not benefit from the same levels of transparency and fair competition as those enjoyed by Chinese companies in the EU market,” the 27-nation bloc said.
European officials said they had “secured binding commitments” from the PRC on combating forced labor and addressing environmental and climate concerns, among other measures.
Human rights activists, however, say the deal rewards the CCP even as its authoritarian regime is trampling civil liberties in Hong Kong, forcing millions of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities into detention camps and forced labor in the Xinjiang region, and eroding the cultural heritage of ethnic Mongolians in northern China.
Analysts point to the CCP’s dismal track record on honoring assurances to protect its people or the planet. “I don’t think these promises are worth the paper they’re written on,” Thorsten Benner, director of the Global Public Policy Institute in Berlin, told Radio Free Asia.
It took just a week for such fears to be realized. The mass arrests in Hong Kong were the latest in a series of punishing maneuvers since China’s legislature imposed a new security law in mid-2020, including the abrupt cancellation of citywide elections. Many of those detained participated in a primary election for the later-postponed vote, according to Hong Kong Watch. (Pictured: Hong Kong pro-democratic party members protest the arrests of opposition lawmakers and activists during a news conference January 6, 2021.)
In a January 9 statement, the governments of Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the United States reiterated that the security law violates the agreement under which the longtime British colony of Hong Kong was transferred to Chinese control in 1997. That deal called for 50 years of limited self-rule for the global financial hub of 7.5 million residents.
“It is clear that the National Security Law is being used to eliminate dissent and opposing political views,” the statement said.
Xi “probably figured with the pact in his pocket, he was free to grind down Hong Kong still more,” The Washington Postnewspaper said in a January 6 editorial, calling on the European Parliament to reject the investment deal “as long as democracy is being sundered in Hong Kong.”
Patten said the investment deal represents a “massive strategic blunder” given the CCP’s “bullying loutish behavior and assault on our international rules.”
“We should not be seeking to contain China,” he said, “but to constrain the Chinese Communist Party.”
IMAGE CREDIT: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS