Europe is not China's "punching bag," European Parliament President David Sassoli told POLITICO on Tuesday, vowing retaliation against Beijing a day after it hit the EU with unexpectedly harsh sanctions. But Sassoli declined to say whether that punishment might include spiking an EU-China investment pact, as some MEPs are urging.
The latest EU-China dust-up started on Monday when the EU and several of its allies approved sanctions against four Chinese officials for their role in widespread allegations of human rights abuses against the Uyghurs, a minority population in the Xinjiang region. Almost immediately, China struck back, sanctioning five MEPs, the Parliament's human rights subcommittee, an EU Council committee and several European NGOs.
The response quickly set off a growing chorus of MEPs demanding that their colleagues not ratify a pending EU-China investment agreement. China "must not think that we are a punching bag," Sassoli said in an interview from the Parliament in Brussels. "Europe is not a punching bag. It is a great worldwide actor, a great market. We are an area of freedom ... and there is no intimidation we can accept."
But he stopped short of backing the calls to kill the EU-China investment pact, which was pushed through late last year despite opposition from some in the EU who argued the agreement as inappropriate given slave-labor concerns in China.