The EU and China have concluded in principle the negotiations for a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment after seven years of negotiations. The deal, poised to open Chinese markets to European investment, has received mixed criticism. Some argue that, despite it being underwhelming for the EU, it is an exercise of strategic autonomy. Others, however, complain about the lack of focus on human rights, or the strategic win for China, which has opened a wedge between the EU and the US. In fact, Jake Sullivan, future NSA, asked the EU to do an early consultation with the new administration before signing anything.
This treaty comes in a start of the year which has shown the more repressive face of China. In Hong Kong, 53 pro-democracy activists were arrested on Wednesday. Yesterday, the Chinese embassy in the US tweeted in favour of the concentration camps in Xinjiang. A citizen journalist who accused the authorities of Wuhan of covering up the virus on its early stages has been sentenced to four years in prison. Finally, while an antitrust probe against Alibaba is ongoing, and whose media coverage has been censored, Jack Ma has not been seen since October.
A Seoul court has ordered Japan to pay damages to 12 former “comfort women” raped by Japanese soldiers during the war. If Japan refuses to compensate them, South Korea could freeze government assets of the island country in the mainland territory. This is a continuation of the escalating tensions between South Korea and Japan in the last years. Besides, both Japanese Prime Minister Suga and South Korean President Moon have seen their popularity fall after a resurgence of Covid cases. Tokyo has been put in state of emergency after three consecutive days with more than 2000 cases, and South Korea is worrying not only about the virus, but also about the promises of Kim-Jong Un to improve the military capabilities of his country. President Moon has promised to enhance the technological prowess of the South Korean army.
Vaccination efforts are underway in Southeast Asia. Singapore has been the first nation to do so, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong taking the vaccine this morning. Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines are expected to start soon, with a combination of Western and Chinese vaccines. Australia, on the other hand, is not only vaccinating its population, but promising that they will give doses to Pacific nations, in order to achieve full immunisation coverage. Countries such as Fiji or Vanuatu are suffering the economic consequences of the pandemic, and both Australia and New Zealand hopes to build goodwill with them by providing vaccines. This could be especially relevant for Australia in their current trade conflict with China.