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China urges France to push for EU investment deal blocked by European Parliament

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China has urged France to convince the EU to ratify an investment deal blocked by the European Parliament, but a French minister said Thursday that Beijing must first lift sanctions against MEPs.

The European Union and China approved a major investment pact late last year, after seven years of painstaking negotiations, thanks to a final push by Germany.

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But the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly last week to refuse any consideration of the deal as long as Chinese sanctions against MEPs and scholars remained in place.

China has slammed the EU and defended its sanctions, saying they were a justified response after the EU imposed punitive measures against Chinese officials over allegations of human rights abuses against Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.

Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao discussed the issue during a videoconference with French counterpart Franck Riester on Tuesday, the two sides said on Thursday.

“The Sino-European investment deal is a balanced, high-level, win-win agreement,” Wang said, according to a Chinese commerce ministry statement.

“We hope that France will actively promote it and strive for its signature and entry into force as soon as possible,” he said.

Riester confirmed the call to AFP, adding that he reiterated the position of France and European Union.

“The Chinese sanctions against members of the European Parliament are unacceptable and do not allow us to more forward in the ratification process of the agreement, as the European Commission recently stated,” Riester said in a written statement to AFP.

“I clearly stated it to my Chinese counterpart.”

Riester also renewed the concerns of France and the EU regarding the “human rights situation in Xinjiang region.”

More than one million Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been held in internment camps in the fractious far west region, according to human rights groups, which have also raised concerns about reports of forced labor and forced sterilization.

China rejects the accusations, saying it is merely sending people to “vocational training centers” to learn Mandarin and job skills in order to steer them away from Islamist extremism in the wake of unrest in the region.

Read more: China’s embrace of sanctions costs it an investment deal with EU