The deal, called the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), aims to open up new opportunities for investment in China. It is a long time coming, and it was hoped the seven years of talks would be concluded before the end of 2020. This target was narrowly achieved as the deal was approved on December 30, though it still needs to be scrutinised in the European Parliament.
Final discussions were held between China’s president Xi Jinping as well as European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
However, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was also present due to Germany holding the EU’s six-month presidency at the time, and French president Emmanuel Macron was also present.
Mr Macron’s attendance is said to have come as “a surprise to many”, according to the South China Morning Post.
One anonymous diplomat told the outlet: “Having the big countries at the table with Xi weakens the power of Brussels, and teaches Beijing that if they want something from the EU, they can just go through the big players.”
They added smaller countries in the EU “were prepared to wait” longer for the deal despite the deadline.
In addition, Ivan Scalfarotto, Italy’s then-deputy minister for foreign affairs, has said the presence of both Germany and France at the meeting was “unjustified” in an article for the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
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Still, it is possible for member states of the EU, even small ones, to vote against foreign policy moves they disagree with.
The deal is yet to be more closely inspected in the European Parliament.
Last year saw some tensions between China and the EU over a range of issues from human rights to the coronavirus pandemic, analysts have said.
Ahead of a trade meeting in September this year, Members of European Parliament wrote a joint letter to Angela Merkel, Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen regarding human rights concerns.
It stated: “Over the past three years, there have been credible allegations of mass arbitrary detention of millions of Uighurs in internment camps, mass sterilization of Uighur women and efforts to diminish Uighur births, widespread destruction of mosques, shrines graveyards and other physical manifestations of Uighur culture, history and identity, efforts to suppress Uighur language, forced labour and modern slavery, serious religious persecution, separation of children from families and other human rights violations.
“The upcoming EU-China Summit represents an ideal opportunity to match the EU’s rhetoric regarding human rights violations in China with concrete action.”