European parliamentarian Reinhard Butikofer says the EU-China deal ignores many geopolitical developments.

New Delhi: Reinhard Butikofer, an influential German member of the European Parliament, who is also the Chair of the European Parliament’s Delegation for Relations with the People’s Republic of China, as well as a member of the Delegation to the United States and a substitute member of the ASEAN Delegation, spoke to The Sunday Guardian on the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), which in principle was concluded on 30 December. Butikofer said that the deal was “ill-timed” and it still needed to be signed by the members of the European Parliament before becoming operational. According to him, the deal has ignored many geopolitical developments, including China’s global hegemonic ambition. Edited excerpts:
Q: This deal has come at a time when China is engaged in border conflicts, not just with India, but almost all its neighbours. Don’t you think the EU countries, rather than helping China consolidate its economic powers by signing this deal, should have waited for some time to measure China’s policy of expansionism? 
A: This deal does, indeed, ignore many geopolitical implications which it carries. I would not argue that the EU must wait with a deal until China has become a completely different country. But the EU should coordinate its China policy better with like-minded countries. This is a valid criticism of this deal now.
Q: You are the chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with China. I can safely assume that you are aware of the forced  labour practice that is prevalent in China, especially in the region of Xinjiang. Will not signing this trade deal give a wrong message to China that the world is ok with how China deals with labour rights?
A: The deal has not been signed. No investment deal is a deal before the European Parliament says so. And the European Parliament voted a strongly worded resolution against Uyghur forced labour in December 2020 with 604 in favour and only 20 opposed. The European Parliament (EP) will continue to weigh in on this matter. I cannot see a green light from EP without Chinese concessions on this front.
Q: China’s CPEC projects, spread across Pakistan, have become a synonym for neo-age colonialism. The exploitation of people and resources of Balochistan, where a majority of these projects are located, is not a state secret. How would you respond to concerns that the EU countries are now the next “target” of China after African continent and Pakistan?
A: The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has global hegemonic ambitions, but democratic countries can stand up and defend their values and interests successfully.
Q: Shi Yinhong, an advisor to China’s State Council, has clearly stated that China will never agree to “reformed labour laws”. How do you respond to this?
A: They have a strong will. But we have a strong will, too.
Q: The role played by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to silence people who tried to warn about Covid-19 and the fact that China suppressed crucial information that could have stopped the spread of Covid-19 are all well documented. Don›t you believe rather than “rewarding” China, as some experts have called it, by finalising this trade deal, the EU should have taken a more principled stand of questioning China on Covid-19?
A: We will have to deal with the PRC on many issues and many fronts. I believe this deal is ill-timed. But that does not imply that we will not continue fighting for our values, for the international rule of law and for a strategy that helps demonstrate to China that they must shoulder their responsibilities and must not behave like an international bully.