by N. Peter Kramer
There is no compromise with China on the Uighurs, stated Jean-Claude Juncker, predecessor of Ursula von der Leyen as President of the European Commission, during a virtual conference organised by the German State Baden-Wurttemberg. Juncker said that he fully understands the criticism of the investment deal that China and the EU concluded at the end of las year. ‘As commission-president I have tried for a long time to conclude this agreement, both with the Chinese President and with the Chinese Prime-Minister’, Juncker said, ‘but ultimately, the negotiations failed every time the question arose whether the Chinese, like others, would be willing to sign and activate the ILO conventions’ (international agreements on workers’ rights at the International Labour Organisation).
‘Just promising that “you will do something”, as President Xi did to the EU leaders, is cheap’. Juncker referred explicitly to the controversial clause in the agreement in which Beijing promises it will ‘strive’ to implement fundamental ILO conventions. ‘That is not enough, China has to sign and ratify these conventions’, the former Commission President said. But Juncker also knows that the Chinese threatened not to approve the text of the agreement with the stronger wording which would have been another failure for Merkel’s German Presidency of the EU.
Jean-Claude Juncker also had reservations about the strategy that the EU used in negotiating with China. ‘I don’t think the EU should pursue a China policy controlled by the US. But to make an important deal so soon before President Joe Biden’s new government comes to power… The Commission should have consulted the Americans before signing an investment deal with China’.
Juncker is not the first to question the EU-China deal. Even before he ink had dried in December, doubts arose as to whether ‘Brussels’ had enforced sufficient guarantees. In particular the vague wording in which the text refers to the massive forced labour by he Uyghur minority in the Chinese province of Xinjian immediately met with fierce criticism. Questions were also raised about China’s pledge to accept litigation and an arbitration panel for the first time. But could such a panel force Beijing to change its policy.
Miracles still happen was probably the leitmotiv of Merkel, Macron, Von der Leyen and Michel.