#32 The G|O Briefing, January 21, 2021

#32 The G|O Briefing, January 21, 2021

What a difference a day makes!

This is an onsite, slightly edited republication of the complete G|O Briefing newsletter

Today in the Geneva Observer, what a difference a day makes! A toxic cloud seems to have dissipated at last. A modest (by previous standards) but resolute inauguration gave America and the world a chance for hope and a powerful and inspiring moment of poetry.  Normalcy has returned, and with it, good ol’ boring politics.

"While democracy can be periodically delayed /it can never be permanently defeated."
- Amanda Gorman

It will not surprise readers of our Briefings that we were no friend of the policies of this most brutish man, for we believe they were wrong for the time and the planet: from trade to nuclear proliferation to climate change, they were ineffective and potentially dangerous.  

The problem with Donald Trump was, from beginning to end, a problem of crass and abysmal incompetence. The narcissism, the vulgarity, the divisiveness—with the consequences we saw two weeks ago with the storming of the Capitol—amplified it, but incompetence goes a long way in explaining the absolute catastrophe that was the Trump administration. The (mis)management of the response to the pandemic is one of its latest manifestations: having finally gotten access to the much-touted “plan” to fight COVID-19, the Biden COVID-19 task force discovered yesterday there was none. “We will have to start from scratch,” said one of its members.  

Over the next few weeks, as the Biden administration fully takes shape, we will be zigzagging between Washington and International Geneva, highlighting the developments of significance to International Geneva. See below.

Also, today in The Geneva Observer, in his piece below, John Zarocostas reports on International Geneva’s reactions to the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments between the EU and China.

“The landmark EU-China Comprehensive Agreement concluded in late December, is drawing a stiff backlash from civil society advocacy groups over the alleged failure by Brussels to secure stronger commitments from Beijing that address the country's poor track record on labor standards and widespread human rights violations,” reports G|O contributor John Zarocostas.

Dr Tedros, meet Dr Fauci!

It was thus with evident relief that the WHO’s Executive Board virtually welcomed Dr Fauci this morning as, on day one and in keeping with his campaign promises, the Biden administration officially rejoined the WHO. When does the 80-year-old man, who admits to working 18-hour days, sleep? It was 4 am Washington time when, unmuting himself,  he told the members he was “honored to announce that the United States will remain a member of the WHO.” He had begun his remarks by thanking the organization for its “role in leading the global public health response to this pandemic under trying circumstances. I also know first-hand the work of WHO, with whom I have engaged in a collaborative manner touching all aspects of global health over the past 4 decades,” he declared.

Calling Dr Tedros a “dear friend,” Fauci also informed the Executive Board that the US would “cease the drawdown of US staff seconded to the WHO” and pay its financial dues.

In another very significant development, Fauci announced that the US will join COVAX “to advance multilateral efforts to ensure the fair and equitable distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.”

The now Chief Medical Adviser to Joe Biden, Fauci told the Board that the US was committed to transparency and will continue to press for an investigation “of the events surrounding the early days of the pandemic.” “The internal investigation should be robust and clear, and we look forward to evaluating it,” he said. He also made clear that Washington would partner with other countries to strengthen and reform the International Health Regulations system currently under review.

Rejoining the WHO is one of seven measures contained in the ambitious plan made public yesterday by the Biden administration to fight the pandemic, an absolute priority of the new president.

“This is a good day for global health and WHO.” -Dr Tedros

A confirmation during a confirmation

Appearing Tuesday (January 19) before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Secretary of State-designate Anthony Blinken told the Senators that some of the policies of the Trump administration will not be undone, most notably in the Middle East. The Biden administration, Blinken said, would review the recent peace accords signed between Israel and its neighbors to build on them. He said the US Embassy would remain in Jerusalem; however, it would support a two-state solution, a position rejected by the previous administration.

In his answers, Anthony Blinken confirmed that the new administration will pursue a harsh line toward China. In his answers to Republican senators who pressed him on the issue, he conceded that China had misled the world at the outset of the pandemic and that the repression against the Uighur Muslims—qualified as “genocide” by his predecessor Mike Pompeo—justified adopting a harsh line towards China.

During his opening remarks, he also expanded on his conception of American leadership:

“I believe that humility and confidence should be the flip sides of America’s leadership coin. Humility because we have a great deal of work to do at home to enhance our standing abroad, and humility because most of the world’s problems are not about us in the first instance, even as they affect us. And no single country acting alone, even one as powerful as the United States, can fully and effectively address these problems.”

All in all, a good day for multilateralism and international cooperation!



But accord also includes solid gains for EU companies doing business in China.

By John Zarocostas

The landmark EU-China Comprehensive Agreement concluded in late December is drawing a stiff backlash from civil society advocacy groups as well as in the European Parliament over the alleged failure by Brussels to secure stronger commitments from Beijing to address the country's poor track record on labor standards and widespread human rights violations.

Foremost, they single out the use of forced labour and the situation of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang—issues on the agenda of Geneva-based agencies such as the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the UN Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In a  letter addressed to the President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, more than 35 human rights, trade union, and faith groups—including the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)—have called for the accord to include “enforceable human rights clauses” and also flag their concerns over the further deterioration of the human rights situation in Hong Kong since the deal was concluded.

At a minimum, they outline a set of conditions that should be implemented before the agreement is ratified. These include: ensuring China ratifies the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and core ILO Conventions on forced labour (No. 29) and the abolition of forced labour (No. 105), Freedom of Association (No. 87) and the Right to Organize and Collective Bargaining (No.98).

“We expect the EU to put more teeth into the agreement ...We fear the current document does not yet capture these measures,” Antoine Madelin, head of advocacy at FIDH, told The Geneva Observer.

Indeed, ILO diplomats and UN human rights experts, speaking on condition of non-attribution, told The G|O that efforts to get China to join the cited core ILO conventions have been ongoing since at least 2003.

Moreover, one UN rights expert noted that at present, it’s not possible for companies to carry out due diligence audits in Xinjiang as “it's very difficult to have access to this area ... As a result, many companies are struggling and on top have advocacy groups on their back” for failing to audit their supply chains.

Diplomatic sources said the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has been the driving force for the investment accord, also pressured China to agree to language on core standards as a prerequisite to secure safe passage through the European Parliament.

As a result, Brussels secured language from Beijing that China would make continued and sustained efforts to ratify the ILO fundamental conventions on forced labour.

However, the best endeavors language does not go far enough, critics say.Western diplomats admit in private that the language here is vague and does not include a firm date. The same sources said some EU member states are likely to call for changes to strengthen the labour and human rights commitments.

Similarly, Sarah Brooks of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR) told The G|O the EU is relying too much on goodwill. She said there have to be robust commitments on human rights.

“Kicking the can further into the future is not an option.”

Diplomatic sources said the Biden administration is also likely to weigh in and “ask for changes” from the EU to strengthen the segment on core rights. The same sources said that given the political climate, “there will be a lot of difficulties.”

However, they expect that given the huge stakes at play and, in particular, the potential benefits for EU companies doing business in China, it would, as one diplomat put it, “be hard for the EU to walk away from it.”

The big unknown, however, diplomats say, is whether President Xi Jinping will go the extra mile or walk away from the deal over the core rights issue. Some diplomats believe a way forward could be found, but it will require some further tough negotiations.

Given the huge size of the Chinese economy, it would be hard to imagine the EU—and Germany in particular, which has huge investments in China, especially in the auto and machinery sectors—decoupling from the deal.

In contrast to the weak segment on rights, the terms secured by Brussels for EU investors concerning market access and disciplines covering manufacturing, services, state-owned enterprises, forced technology transfers, and standard setting, authorizations, and transparency, are likely to enhance the ability of European companies doing business in China, sources said.

According to the EU, cumulative EU foreign direct investment (FDI) flows from the EU to China over the last 20 years have reached more than

€140 billion, while Chinese FDI into the EU is almost €120 billion.

“This is a very important agreement for European service businesses who today face many market access barriers on the Chinese market, more than the manufacturing sectors,” said Pascal Kerneis, Managing of the European Services Forum, in a statement.

For service companies, the establishment of a commercial presence abroad is the preferred way to operate internationally. ESF welcomes the commitment by China to eliminate restrictions like equity caps or joint venture requirements and to open up progressively many services sectors like financial services, telecommunications, and IT and computer-related services, he said.

The accord also includes, for example, language on transparency on subsidies provided in the services sector, something which is considered a plus over the WTO General Agreement on Trade in Services, which has yet to agree on such disciplines.

Professor Xiankun Lu, Managing Director of LEDECO, a Geneva-based trade consultancy, told The G|O the content of the agreement “far exceeded traditional bilateral investment agreements.”

Lu, a former senior Chinese trade diplomat, said the agreement will also “promote the solution of difficulties in China's reform and opening up.” This is good news, he said, for EU-invested companies but also for private Chinese companies.

The agreement, he said, will also promote the balance between China, the US, and the EU in the “great triangle.”

Today's Briefing: Philippe Mottaz - Jamil Chade - John Zarocostas Edited by: Paige Holt