Is the European Union inviting a Dragon in its backyard?

European Union Chinese dragon

In December 2020, the European Union signed a landmark trade deal - the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) with China.

The deal was struck in the last days of December after last-minute concessions from Chinese Premier Xi Jinping.

It aims to liberalise trade between Beijing and Brussels.

Since the signing of the deal, there is a mounting concern in the European Parliament over China’s human rights record on issues, including alleged forced labour camps and a crackdown in Hong Kong against anti-government protestors.

The European Parliament’s demands for the deal to contain a clause binding China to international agreements on modern slavery were also ignored.

Instead, the deal only contains a non-binding commitment by China “to make continuous and sustained efforts” to ratify the International Labour Organization’s conventions on forced labour.

The concerns were echoed in a letter sent by a group of European Union MEPs to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

Margaritis Schinas and Ursula von der Leyen

Ursula von der Leyen
Ursula von der Leyen.

The appeal, signed by a dozen civil rights groups, underlined that the CAI sent a signal that the European Union was pushing for closer cooperation with China "regardless of the scale and severity of human rights abuses carried out by the Chinese Communist Party."

They also opined that there was little opening for European nations to take advantage of the said deal by entering into the Chinese market as the overall winner was China as they had successfully inked the deal during the power transition phase in the United States.

The trade deal raises questions over credibility of European Union as the champion of human rights as it has overlooked China’s human rights violations and security aspects in signing the deal. It has handed China an important victory.

The deal with the European Union is being hailed in China as a great success for President Xi Jinping before the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party and confirmation of its power in the new world.

China’s ‘Made in China 2025’ (MIC 2025) initiative, whose objective is to achieve manufacturing dominance by 2025, is the main driving force behind these deals.

MIC 2025’s overall strategy is to achieve 70% self-sufficiency in high-end industries and reduce dependence on foreign technology.

Regulations and tariffs imposed by developed countries have always made it difficult for China to access advanced technology, therefore, China is on the lookout for such deals that enable a liberal trade environment to further its interests.

A case in point is the attempt by China Reform Holdings to takeover Imagination Technologies, a UK-based chip design firm engaged in artificial research.

Had it not been for the timely intelligence inputs from the MI6 and MI5, the British government could not have managed to prevent this critical acquisition.

Across the Mediterranean and on and around the Atlantic, a number of ports are already operated or owned by state-controlled Chinese companies.

One of Europe’s largest ports, the one in Piraeus, Greece, is fully controlled by China Ocean Shipping Co (COSCO) since 2016.

The European Union must understand that the threat from China does not just come from state actors.

Chinese enterprises are also a tool among others used by China in international conflicts.

The Chinese Communist Party would leverage the liberal environment created by the deal to spread disinformation and propaganda and carry out extensive espionage on European soil.

The relaxation of rules and lax surveillance of Chinese activities would only strengthen its capabilities to unleash cyber and hybrid warfare in Europe.

In light of the above, the European Union should be wary in approving this deal.

It should weigh all the pros and cons as the deal would not only entail Chinese investments but also Chinese surveillance. It would be dangerous to have a dragon in the backyard.

The views of the author do not necessarily reflect those of Greek City Times.

Zachariah Pappas is a geopolitical expert.

Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor