Taiwan vice president warns EU about folly of investment deal with China

Lai warns EU to beware of what it might lose in investment deal with China

Internment camp near Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux, Xinjiang. (Planet Labs image via AP)

Internment camp near Kunshan Industrial Park in Artux, Xinjiang. (Planet Labs image via AP)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taiwanese Vice President Lai Ching-te (賴清德) on Wednesday (Dec. 30) warned the European Union to be wary of an investment deal it is on the verge of signing with China.

As evidence of the Chinese government's atrocities against ethnic minorities mounts and its suppression of democracy in Hong Kong intensifies, Brussels and Beijing on Tuesday (Dec. 29) agreed on an investment deal allegedly designed to level the playing field for European firms wishing to invest in the autocratic country.

The EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, which had been under negotiation since 2014, is being billed by the EU as having achieved "substantive commitments from China" in the "key pillars" of market access, a level playing field, and sustainable development, without any mention of how Beijing's commitments would be enforced.

The European Commission claimed that the agreement will lay down "clear obligations on Chinese state-owned enterprises," remove barriers for European investments in certain industries, and bar forced technology transfers. However, Jürgen Matthes from the German Economic Institute in Cologne told Deutsche Welle that in many areas, European companies will still have to be entangled in joint ventures with a Chinese partner, increasing the risk of trade secret theft.

One of the most contentious issues in the deal is forced labor in China, and the EU claims China has promised to "work towards" ratification of the ILO fundamental Conventions on forced labor. Not only has China placed over 1 million ethnic Uyghurs, Kazakhs, and other minorities into internment camps, but recent satellite images show over 135 new structures within the camps in Xinjiang that appear to be factories.

The agreement has been pushed through despite worsening diplomatic relations between China and the U.S. and sabotages President-elect Joe Biden's plan to work together with European allies to counter China's "Wolf warrior diplomacy" when he comes into office. Janka Oertel, director of the Asia program at the European Council on Foreign Relations, was cited by The Washington Post as saying that “After this year, with China’s terrible behavior around the world, it would send a weird signal."

On Wednesday, Lai reacted to the announcement of the new agreement by posting a tweet in which he warned the EU to be careful when signing deals with China. He pointed out that based on past experience with such deals, "You only see what you can get, not what you might lose."

He asserted that the pact not only raises concerns about the repression of Uyghurs and labor rights abuses but "there is something deeper that goes to the heart of democracy." Lai closed by saying that this is a lesson Taiwan has learned through its dealings with China in recent decades.

In response to the announcement of the deal, Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) on Thursday (Dec. 31) said that there are still many concerns and doubts over important issues such as forced labor, human rights, market access, sustainable development, and intellectual property rights, and given China's debt-trap diplomacy, the ministry feels that further observation will be needed before it can be determined whether these concerns will be properly addressed through the agreement.

MOFA stated that it will closely monitor the implementation of the agreement and cooperate with like-minded partners, including the EU, to continue to promote a norm-based international economic and trade environment.

In addition, Taiwan is seeking to negotiate and sign a Bilateral Investment Agreement (BIA) with the EU. Through a number of working groups, Taiwan has exchanged views with its European counterparts on issues related to a BIA.

The European Parliament has also repeatedly expressed a great deal of support for the negotiation and signing of such an agreement. MOFA pledged that it will continue to cooperate with the Ministry of Economic Affairs to strengthen momentum on starting talks on a BIA between Taiwan and the EU.

Updated : 2021-01-23 01:36 GMT+08:00