UK, US should respect EU autonomy over China, top envoy says
EU-China investment deal 'just one tool' in bloc's relationship with China, says EU's ambassador to the UK.
LONDON — Britain should respect Brussels’ autonomy to develop its relationship with China, the EU’s ambassador to the U.K. said, amid concerns the bloc has brushed aside geopolitical worries in its investment deal with the Asian giant.
João Vale de Almeida, the EU’s first ambassador in Britain since Brexit, described the deal struck with China in late December as “just one tool in a toolbox of instruments and ways through which we deal with China” and insisted the EU was approaching its relations with China “in a comprehensive way.”
Critics of the deal, known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), argue the EU is offloading vexing geopolitical issues to Joe Biden’s U.S. administration in pursuit of investment.
But Vale de Almeida said the U.K., the U.S. and the EU “need to respect the autonomy of each of the players” in dealing with Beijing.
“We shouldn’t ask this investment agreement to address all the issues that we have with China,” he told an online event hosted Tuesday by the liberal conservative Bright Blue think tank. “There should be no problem if one country takes an initiative on its own … What is important is to have a dialogue on our way in which we deal with partners such as China.”
He defended the deal as a “positive step” for the EU in terms of market access to the Chinese economy and level playing field provisions, pointing out Beijing has signed up to a number of commitments on sustainability, corporate social responsibility and labor standards.
The coming years look rosy for the the EU’s transatlantic relationship, despite the China agreement and Brexit, Vale de Almeida said. And he expressed confidence the EU will find common ground with the U.S. and the U.K. on issues like climate change, the coronavirus pandemic and reforming the World Trade Organization in a way that suits their interests.
Vale de Almeida’s comments on EU-China relations followed a lecture on post-Brexit ties between the bloc and the U.K. Hailing the Brexit trade deal as a “turning point,” he said on subjects like climate change the two sides are more likely to converge than to take different regulatory paths.
Both partners will nonetheless have to “organize” any policy divergence “in a way that suits our interests on both sides and respects our values,” he said. “This is the core challenge that we have. But we must respect and we must trust the other side.”