China-Europe relations tend to deteriorate, and the biggest recent move by the EU was to freeze the review of the China-EU Investment Agreement on May 20. Judging from the series of subsequent moves by the CCP, Xi Jinping and the CCP have repeatedly misjudged Europe, which is one of the reasons why China-EU relations have come to this point. It is foreseeable that the CCP will make appropriate adjustments to its policy toward Europe in the future. The CCP is currently unwilling and unprepared to make the EU another adversary besides the US.
Miscalculation 1: The CCP wants to exchange economic benefits for the EU to “shut up” about human rights issues
On the evening of December 30, 2020, China and Europe reached an agreement on the China-EU Investment Agreement. While the Chinese Communist Party’s official media sang its praises, it did not realize that a crisis was creeping closer.
On December 7, 2020, the EU adopted the “EU Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime,” which aims to punish non-EU personnel responsible for serious human rights violations. Prior to that, the China-EU Human Rights Dialogue, which is usually held between China and Europe, has been held 37 times so far, behind closed doors at the request of the Chinese Communist Party. Europe has generally recognized that this dialogue has had little impact on the CCP’s efforts to improve human rights.
For many years, the CCP’s practice in dealing with Europe and the United States has been to offer economic benefits in exchange for less or no criticism of the CCP’s human rights problems. This strategy has worked repeatedly over the past decade or so.
So when the EU adopted a new human rights sanctions regime and then reached an economic agreement with the CCP similar to the first phase of the U.S.-China economic and trade agreement, the CCP thus made its first misjudgment. The Chinese Communist Party thought that this was just a higher offer from the EU in terms of economic benefits, and that if it “conceded” economic benefits again, the EU would not fall completely in favor of the U.S. and would remain silent on the human rights issues of the Chinese Communist Party, as it did before. This is also confirmed by the China-EU Investment Agreement reached at the end of last year, which is indeed based on the unilateral opening of the Chinese market to Europe.
Miscalculation No. 2: The CCP does not realize that the EU’s orientation toward the CCP has changed
In 2003, China and Europe established a comprehensive strategic partnership, with a great deal of cooperation in economic and trade areas. After Xi took power, in 2013, the two sides also published the China-EU Cooperation 2020 Strategic Plan at one point. However, the CCP’s conflict of interest with the EU in several political and economic fields has increased since then. In 2019, during the period of the U.S.-China trade war, there was a dramatic shift in the EU’s positioning vis-à-vis the CCP.
In March of that year, the EU published the “Europe-China Strategic Outlook” policy report, which characterized the CCP as a “partner,” an “economic competitor” and an “institutional adversary. This positioning is similar to the Biden administration’s positioning of the CCP today, namely that the EU will cooperate with the CCP on international affairs such as climate change, compete with the CCP economically, and fight back when the CCP threatens its security.
The CCP has clearly misjudged this new positioning of China-EU relations. The CCP was also annoyed after the EU made sanctions against the CCP in March this year in response to the Xinjiang issue. This was reflected in Wang Yi’s public remarks.
“We never thought the EU would impose sanctions on us.” Wang said in Munich on 25 May, adding that he questioned how a “strategic partner” could take such action. Wang also acknowledged that Beijing was shocked when Brussels announced sanctions against Chinese Communist Party officials.
Wang added that the sanctions reminded the Chinese of their past of being “bullied by European imperialists.
Miscalculation No. 3: Communist Party Underestimates Consequences of Sanctions on Europe; Several Sanctioned European Lawmakers Fight Back
Another sign of the Chinese Communist Party’s anger is the lack of reciprocity in the sanctions imposed by China and Europe. The CCP sanctioned 10 people and 4 entities against the EU, while the EU sanctioned only 4 people and 1 entity against the CCP.
This sanction by the CCP against the EU has had serious consequences. The CCP misjudged or underestimated this consequence.
The most immediate impact is that the deliberations of the China-EU Investment Agreement were frozen by the European Parliament on May 20. Moreover, the Chinese sanctions have left various “after-effects”.
For example, Samuel Cogolati, a member of the Belgian Parliament, who was sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party, recently claimed that Alibaba was a spy den. This caught the Chinese Communist Party by surprise. In other words, the human rights issues that were originally confined to Xinjiang have gradually begun to spread to other areas because of the sanctions imposed on European officials.
On May 20, the Lithuanian parliament confirmed that the CCP had committed “genocide” in Xinjiang, in a resolution sponsored by Dovile Sakaliene, a member of parliament who had been sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party. Two days later, Lithuania publicly announced its withdrawal from the “17+1” mechanism led by the Chinese Communist Party, a move that was even more embarrassing for the Chinese Communist Party.
With Lithuania’s withdrawal, the mechanism has effectively become “16+1”, reverting back to the status quo before Greece joined in 2019. In the future, for the sake of face, the Chinese Communist Party may be able to absorb other European countries to enter and still maintain the number of “17+1”, but whether the joining party will have a conflict of interest with the original Central and Eastern European countries has become a real problem for the Chinese Communist Party.
Then there is the British Parliament’s May 22 finding of genocide by Beijing in Xinjiang. According to a statement by the Inter-Parliamentary Policy Alliance on China (IPAC), the UK’s move “is the latest in a series of coordinated actions by IPAC members. Miriam Lexmann, the Slovakian MEP targeted by the March sanctions, is the president of IPAC.
Miscalculation No. 4: The Chinese Communist Party’s Sanctions Against the Political and Security Committee of the Council of Europe
Another misjudgment is the Communist Party’s inclusion of the Political and Security Committee (PSC) of the Council of Europe as a sanctioned entity.
The European Council, which includes the heads of state of the European Union, the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, and the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is the body that sets the overall political direction and priorities of the EU.
The PSC is the “axis” of the EU’s common foreign and security policy and is composed of ambassadorial-level representatives of the 27 member states, chaired by a representative of the European Ministry of External Affairs (similar to the EU Ministry of Foreign Affairs), and forms the EU’s unified external position.
By imposing sanctions on this body, the Chinese Communist Party has effectively sanctioned the makers of the EU’s common foreign and security policy. Whether the CCP is happy about it or not, the PSC will continue to draft EU policies related to the CCP in the future. In the current political climate, the PSC is also unlikely to be the first to back down to the CCP.
More seriously, if the CCP were to announce that it would ban those diplomats from this institution from entering mainland China, the CCP would be unable to close the door on its relations with Europe because of the importance of these people in its own diplomatic system, a move that could be described as devastating to China-EU relations.
It is foreseeable that the CCP will make appropriate adjustments to its future policy toward Europe, otherwise the relationship will go downhill fast. The CCP is currently unwilling and unprepared to let the EU become another adversary besides the US. To this end, the CCP has also sent signals.
The April 29 issue of the South China Morning Post cooled down the sanctions by releasing information that by not releasing details of the sanctions, the CCP intends to reduce the intensity of the sanctions against Europe and try to prove that the (sanctions) policy is milder than it seems.
In this regard, some European diplomatic insiders also know by heart, “We have stopped asking the Chinese Communist Party side, otherwise it would force the Chinese side to define it (the details of the sanctions).”