China’s foreign minister says EU parliament is wrong to tie investment deal to Xinjiang

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China’s foreign minister criticised the European Union’s parliament on Tuesday for freezing the ratification of a bilateral investment treaty, adding that Beijing also felt blindsided by the EU’s decision to sanction Chinese officials over allegations of human rights abuse in the far-west region of Xinjiang.

Speaking at a teleconference talk hosted by the Munich Security Conference, Foreign Minister Wang Yi gave his first public reaction to the European Parliament’s passage last week of a motion halting its ratification process of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI).

The parliament voted overwhelmingly to stop consideration of the deal until Beijing lifts sanctions it imposed on 10 European lawmakers and four European institutions for speaking out against its activities in Xinjiang.

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When those EU sanctions were launched, the Chinese people were reminded of the days when we were bullied by European imperialists

Wang Yi

Wang said that the motion was wrong to link human rights to trade issues, adding that allegations of concentration camps and genocide in Xinjiang were “lies and rumours”.

“The investment agreement is not a one-sided favour, the Xinjiang-related issue bears on China’s sovereignty and security,” he said.

“Attempts by some in the EU to link up issues of different nature and turn trade issues into political ones are not acceptable and will lead nowhere.”

During his remarks, Wang also noted that China issued those sanctions in response to the EU’s decision to sanction four Chinese officials for their role in a crackdown on Muslim ethnic minorities in Xinjiang, saying that the EU move “shocked” Beijing.

EU-China investment deal on hold as MEPs vote to halt talks

“When those EU sanctions were launched, the Chinese people were reminded of the days when we were bullied by European imperialists,” he said.

“So we had to give a response. We were unwilling to do so, but we were not the first to bring up the issue. If there were no EU sanctions, we would not have written out our sanctions.”

The CAI, which needs approval from both the European Parliament and the European Council, has been promoted by Brussels as one that will rebalance trade and investment between the EU and China “based on values and sustainable development principles”.

The agreement, which was reached on December 30 after seven years of negotiations, “provides for an unprecedented level of market access for EU investors”, according to an EU statement after the signing.

“The CAI will significantly improve the level playing field by laying down clear obligations on Chinese state-owned enterprises, prohibiting forced technology transfers and other distortive practices.”

But the motion passed last week specified China’s removal of its sanctions as a condition for the CAI to be considered.

China-EU deal suspension seen as more politically symbolic than economic

Wang said that the overall EU-China relations would not be derailed by “one or two sanctions” and laid out areas where both sides could cooperate more, from Covid-19 vaccines to clean energy.

“[EU-China] business corporations, including the bilateral investment treaty, should not be held hostage by different political opinions,” he said.

As calls from human rights groups for a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing increase, Wang also urged the EU to maintain a neutral stance on the issue.

“Europe is the birthplace of the Olympic spirit. Our two sides can stand together in denouncing the politicisation of sports,” he said.

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