Year of hope could turn into year of halt
Europe and China trade is currently over € 1 Billion per day and after the ratification of the EU – China Comprehensive Agreement of Investment (CAI), which is in its 28th Round of negotiations, trade statistics will become gigantic. The aim of this agreement is to provide investors on both sides with predictable, long term access to the EU and Chinese markets and to protect investors and their investments. The European Union expects that China will trade fairly and will take solemn responsibility to safeguard intellectual property rights as to meet the World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations.
The European Union imports mainly consumer and industrial goods, footwear, clothing, and machinery from China. In between 2009 and 2010, EU – China trade increased by 38% and ever since the relationship between EU and China has strengthened. In 2018, the EU imported € 389 billion worth of goods from China alone. The friendship between the European Union and China has increased ever since China became member of the WTO in 2000.
A World Pandemic, Covid-19, the biggest pandemic since the Spanish flu of 1918, has brought the world to a halt. European countries have borne the brunt of this virus and during these tumultuous times, one can only deduce that EU – China relations are being tested most. China, being the first country to witness the virus and the only country from where the virus originated with human to human transmission, is at the centre of all discussions these days be it economic, social or political.
The European Union helped China by donating 50 tons of medical equipment to China in January 2020. In March 2020 China announced it could provide 2 million surgical masks, 50,000 testing kits and many other relevant medical supplies and equipment to help Europe fight the Corona virus. China’s Jack Ma provided medical testing kits to Ukraine and Belgium. They donated 50,000 surgical masks to Greece and also gave medical aid to countries such as Bulgaria, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, and Slovenia. Additionally, several European countries have turned towards China for immediate medical assistance and aid.
The world is facing the worst economic slump since great depression of 1931. Many countries including the United States and the United Kingdom are accusing China of concealing facts and figures relating to Corona virus cases. The resentment against China is growing in Europe. Europeans are claiming that China is trying to pivot the focus of the world from being the centre of the global pandemic to the global saviour. Whilst coming to the aid of Europe, it is now evident that China is not doing it any favours as Italy and Spain already claimed that their testing kits and masks sent from China are either faulty or not of International standards. Europe observes that China is taking advantage of countries desperate for medical equipment and supplies. It has become clear to the Europeans that China is weaponizing medical goods and is now accused of selling defective masks and personal protective equipment. This will not go down well with EU – China relations. People in countries like the US, UK and many member states of the European Union especially Italy have already started discussions on demand for reparations.
Robust International organisations like the World Health Organisation (WHO) are also accused of colluding with China in hiding data and not furnishing real facts and figures until it was already very late. After receiving the first report of 3-4 suspected cases in Huawei Province on December 27th 2019, Chinese scientists carried out epidemiological research on December 29th 2019 and the Wuhan’s Health Commission issued an emergency call one day later. China reported the situation to the WHO and other countries around the world on January 3rd 2020 and then the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention uploaded the virus gene sequence on January 11th 2020 and ordered WUHAN to shut down on 23rd January 2020. China’s National Health Commission sent experts to Wuhan on January 31st 2020 for an internal investigation. China has taken strict, comprehensive, thorough and unprecedented measures to control the corona virus. Yet on 31st March 2020, the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson rejected the accusation from countries around the world saying that COVID -19 is a new type of virus that we have never seen before, it takes time to discover, study and detect.
The year of hope for EU – China relations is fast becoming a year of hesitation and uncertainty. No one knows how and to what extent this virus will impact the global economy. Some economists are claiming a recession worse than any ever faced by the world in the past. The virus has hit every country in the world and particularly the European Union drastically. The future of China relations will have to be given assiduous thought, and following recent trends it is clear that EU – China relations may even come to a halt.