The European Parliament halted progress on Thursday with a major trade deal with China, citing Beijing’s “totalitarian threat” over its record on human rights and its sanctions against Europeans who have criticized the Chinese government.
With an overwhelming majority, members of parliament passed a resolution refusing to ratify the so-called comprehensive investment agreement until China lifted sanctions against prominent European critics of Beijing. MPs have also warned that they may refuse to sign the agreement because of China’s treatment of Muslim minorities and the suppression of democracy in Hong Kong.
“The human rights situation in China is at its worst since the Tiananmen Square massacre,” reads the resolution accusing China of detaining more than one million people, mostly Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang province. Chinese government denies.
The sanctions against members of the European Parliament who have criticized Beijing, as well as various scholars and research organizations, ‘form an attack on the European Union and its parliament as a whole, the heart of European democracy and values, as well as an attack on freedom of research , ”Reads the resolution.
The vote was the latest setback for relations between the European Union and China just months after they signed a treaty aimed at making it easier for their businesses to do business on each other’s territory. The agreement requires parliamentary approval.
The investment deal was a high priority for German Chancellor Angela Merkel because of China’s importance to German carmakers and other businesses. Among other things, the agreement will allow European companies to hold a majority stake in their Chinese subsidiaries, rather than forcing them to work through joint ventures with Chinese partners and share trade secrets.
But relations have declined since March when the European Commission issued sanctions against four Communist Party officials after accusing them of being responsible for human rights violations.
China retaliated with sanctions against members of the European Parliament, including Reinhard Bütikofer, a member of the Green Group from Germany and a leading critic of Beijing. They are not allowed to travel to China or do business with people in China.
The investment agreement was already in trouble. Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commissioner for Trade, said earlier in May that work to finalize the treaty had been delayed due to repressive Chinese policies. The European Commission, the administrative arm of the European Union, also took steps this month to restrict Chinese companies receiving government subsidies, giving them an unfair competitive advantage.
The resolution was passed Thursday with a vote of 599 and 30 against and 58 abstentions. The no votes come from a handful of MPs from right or far left.