Angela Merkel Pushes for ‘Win-Win’ EU-China Trade Deal in Call With Xi Jinping

BEIJING, CHINA - MAY 24: China's President Xi Jinping (R) meets German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, May 24, 2018. (Photo by Jason Lee - Pool/Getty Images)
Jason Lee - Pool/Getty Images

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a renewed push for the massive EU-China trade deal in what is likely to be her last conversation with Chinese dictator Xi Jinping as the leader of Germany.

Chancellor Merkel, who will be replaced after the German elections later this month, used one of her final foreign policy meetings to continue her efforts to deepen trade relations between the European Union and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In a Chinese readout of the conversation between Merkel and Xi, the German leader reportedly told the communist dictator that the EU-China investment deal – which was put on hold after Beijing imposed sanctions on European politicians who spoke out against the human rights atrocities in Xinjiang – would be mutually beneficial and a “win-win” for both China and the EU.

For his part, Xi Jinping thanked the German Chancellor for being “actively committed to promoting Germany’s and the EU’s practical cooperation and friendly exchanges with China.

The €120 billion proposed trade deal came under fire for failing to mention issues of human rights in China, including the anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong or the oppression in Xinjiang, where it is believed that as many as three million Uyghurs have been incarcerated in concentration camps.

The EU Commission hailed the deal for its supposed ‘concessions’ from the CCP, but in critical areas such as forced labour the dictatorship in Beijing has merely claimed it will “work towards” implementing international labour standards.

During Merkel’s 16-year reign as the leader of Germany, her country has seen economic ties with the communist regime vastly increase, with China becoming Germany’s top trading partner in 2018.

This week, German companies such as Hugo Boss, Aldi, Lidl, and C&A were accused by the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) of profiting off of the slave labour system in Xinjiang. The companies have denied the claims.

Germany’s top automotive companies Volkswagen and BMW have also been accused of benefiting from the use of slave labour in the Xinjiang region.

It is unclear if Merkel’s pro-China policies will outlast her chancellorship, with her tipped successor as leader of the notionally centre-right Christian Democrat Union (CDU), Armin Laschet, trailing left-wing parties in the polls.

The director of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Asia programme, Janka Oertel, told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post that Merkel “focused on enhancing and deepening trade relations with China, while hoping that the country would slowly adapt and integrate into the rules-based international order, made sense at the time.”

However, Oertel noted that this agenda is out of date given the Maoist, authoritarian push under Xi Jinping, saying: “The Chinese leadership has defined its own decoupling and autonomy agenda, which is enshrined in President Xi Jinping’s speeches and the party’s latest five-year plan.”

Merkel’s China agenda has also come under fire from Germany’s public broadcaster Deutsche Welle, which ran an opinion piece on Thursday calling for an end to her “love affair” with China.

“For years Berlin has mollycoddled China in the hope that billions of euros in investments would prompt it to shun its authoritarian ways. Beijing’s belligerence shows the tactic has backfired,” wrote DW’s Ashutosh Pandey.

“With Merkel on her way out, Berlin should seize the opportunity and adopt a forceful position on China. Germany with its own harrowing history of Nazi crimes must seek to build an alliance with like-minded countries, including the United States and Japan, to make Beijing pay for suppressing human rights,” he added.

While there may be some pushback in Germany against China should Merkel’s Christian Democrat Union fail in the elections in two weeks time, there have already been signals in Brussels that the EU leadership still intends on seeking deeper economic ties with Beijing.

In an interview on Wednesday, EU Council President Charles Michel said that the bloc will not be “held hostage” to the rivalry between the United States and China.

“There is no doubt that we share the same democratic values and the same political model as the United States. At the same time, we must develop — as Europeans — our own strategy regarding China, which is a global power,” Michel wheedled.

“There is the rebalancing of relations in terms of trade and, more broadly, economics. In fact, this was the purpose of the draft agreement on investments which was, in my opinion, a first step to rebalancing access to our respective markets,” he said in reference to the proposed trade deal with China.

Follow Kurt Zindulka on Twitter here @KurtZindulka

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