New EU-China Agreement Will Sideline Biden Administration, Experts Say

Joe Biden
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January 5, 2021

A new trade agreement between the European Union and China may obstruct President-elect Joe Biden’s plans to cooperate more with Europe, experts on China told the Washington Free Beacon.

The deal, approved by European leaders last Wednesday, gives Beijing greater access to European manufacturing and renewable energy markets, the New York Times reported. But more importantly, the agreement signals that Europe prioritizes its ties with China before its relationship with the United States, according to American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Derek Scissors.

"It's a telling choice by the EU to work with the PRC while getting little in return," Scissors told the Free Beacon.

Walter Lohman, director of the Heritage Foundation's Asian Studies Center, agreed that the deal plays into China's hands while doing little to benefit the EU.

"The [deal] contains many Chinese commitments of dubious value," Lohman said. "Beijing’s sudden flexibility and rush to complete the agreement before the end of the year was clearly aimed at preempting the prospect of closer U.S.-EU coordination. Brussels fell for it, and while Beijing will honor some of the specific sector commitments it has made, those gains pale in comparison to the strategic advantage Europe is conceding."

Biden made restoring transatlantic ties a point of emphasis in his foreign policy platform on the campaign trail, accusing President Donald Trump of leaving NATO and U.S. alliances in disrepair. Scissors warned that the EU's new deal with Beijing could hinder Biden’s hopes of forging closer ties with Europe.

"President-elect Biden and some of his incoming staff talk as if more cooperation with allies on China issues will be easy, when few of our allies have shown they care about Xi Jinping's political repression or foreign aggressiveness," Scissors said.

Lohman told the Free Beacon that the deal will be an obstacle to U.S. efforts to confront China with the support of European allies.

"With this agreement, Brussels has decided to do it the hard way," Lohman said. "The U.S. government will have to work both official and unofficial channels to help Europe think more strategically about China."

The deal between the EU and China received criticism for its minimal focus on China's human-rights abuses. Beijing made only minor concessions regarding the ongoing imprisonment of Uighur Muslims in western China, agreeing to work toward ratifying international conventions banning forced labor.

The agreement drew a rebuke from deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger.

"Leaders in both U.S. political parties and across the U.S. government are perplexed and stunned that the EU is moving towards a new investment treaty right on the eve of a new U.S. administration," Pottinger said. "The EU Commission’s haste to partner with Beijing despite its grotesque human-rights abuses has removed a fig leaf. Some European officials and commentators liked to claim that the Trump Administration was an impediment to even deeper transatlantic cooperation.  Now it is plain to all that this isn’t about President Trump. It’s about key European officials. Look in the mirror."