BRUSSELS, EU leaders will hold video talks with
Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday hoping to make progress on trade and investment, even as tensions mount between Beijing and the West over Hong Kong and the treatment of minority Uighurs.
The virtual meeting between top Chinese officials and EU Council President
Charles Michel, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, replaces a full summit with all 27 European leaders which had to be cancelled because of coronavirus.
China has said an investment deal already seven years in the making can be
agreed by the end of the year, but EU officials warn significant obstacles
remain and insist they will not agree to unfavourable terms simply to cut a
Brussels says “significant progress” has been made in talks since a
similar video summit in June, and officials hope to agree a “roadmap” to get
a deal done by the end of the year, but they also warn Beijing needs to do
more to improve market access for European companies.
Brussels wants to reinforce respect for intellectual property, end
obligations to transfer technology and see a reduction in subsidies for
Chinese public enterprises.
No major breakthrough is expected on Monday but the EU side hopes to
persuade Xi, China’s paramount leader, to give fresh political impetus to the
talks — and to allow his negotiators more room to compromise.
The meeting comes as ties between China and the US deteriorate, with both sides locked in fierce recriminations over trade disputes, human rights and the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.
Washington and Beijing this week imposed reciprocal curbs on each other’s
diplomats, after another tit-for-tat in July when the two governments ordered the closure of consulates in Houston and Chengdu.
Both sides have sought to enlist the EU in their spat, and during a visit
to Brussels by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in June, the EU’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell mooted talks to forge a common transatlantic front against China.
But little progress has been made on this initiative and broadly Brussels
has preferred to forge a middle path, treating Beijing as both a potential
partner and a “systemic rival”.
Pompeo and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi have both toured European
capitals over the summer seeking to drum up support.
The EU is set to press Xi on Hong Kong, where Beijing has imposed a
controversial new security law — a move denounced by the West as a major
assault on the city’s freedoms.
After the June summit, von der Leyen warned China would face “very
negative consequences” if it pressed ahead with the law and a month later the EU agreed to limit exports to Hong Kong of equipment that could be used for surveillance and repression.
European concerns about China’s rights record are growing: during a visit
by Wang to Berlin earlier this month, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas
called China out over Hong Kong and its treatment of minority Uighurs.
But the EU is far from united on how to deal with China, with some member
states urging a tougher stance to get Beijing to do better on rights and the
environment and others favouring a gentler approach to boost trade.
Moreover, Beijing has used its mammoth “Belt and Road” infrastructure
scheme to effectively pick off investment-hungry EU member states such as
Greece, Portugal and Italy.
Source: NAM News Network