BRUSSELS (AP) – European Union officials on Monday urged China’s leaders to further open up the country’s markets to European companies, show stronger leadership in reforming the governing body of world trade and stepping back do the edge in Hong Kong.
Criticizing that the EU crept to Beijing, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel and the President of the EU Commission Ursula von der Leyen, after video conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Li Keqiang, tried a harder tone save than usual.
The 27-nation block is China’s largest trading partner, but also an economic competitor. As Beijing has become more assertive in recent years, the EU has struggled to balance its commercial interests with a country it also sees as ‘a systemic rival’. “
“Progress is needed in many areas to rebalance this relationship, and we have made it clear that we need to solve concrete problems,” said Michel, while listing unresolved issues such as market access, subsidies, regulatory issues, public procurement, the forced transfer of technologies and WTO reforms.
No Chinese officials took part in the press conference.
Von der Leyen said that Brussels and Beijing would soon sign an agreement on geographic indicators that would protect national producers, but she regretted the general lack of progress, in particular regarding the removal of barriers to market access, since the EU-China Summit of last year.
“We continue to have an unbalanced trade and investment relationship,” she told reporters. “We need to deliver on these commitments urgently. And on the Chinese side, too, we should have more ambition to finalize negotiations on an investment agreement. ”
In a statement after the meeting, Europeans expressed “serious concern” about China’s decision to impose its security law on Hong Kong, saying that Beijing’s actions violate its international obligations and “exert pressure on fundamental rights and freedoms of the population “.
They also expressed concern about human rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as reports of people disappearing after expressing their views on China’s handling of the corona virus. The “continued arbitrary detention” of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai and two Canadian citizens – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – was also emphasized.
“For the European Union, human rights and fundamental freedoms are non-negotiable,” said von der Leyen.
She also expressed concern about a disinformation campaign by China related to the coronavirus, noting further that “we have seen cyber attacks on computer systems, hospitals and we know the origins of the cyber attacks.”
Although Monday’s video summit did not yield any concrete results – no joint statement was made – Europeans hope that it will stimulate the slow-moving talks on an investment agreement they have been working on at technical level and will create a common basis for tackling thorny political issues at a face-to-face meeting, hopefully late in the year.
The meetings come at a time when China is accused of trying to influence European officials and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who also participated in the meetings, on two occasions in recent months denying that the Service External Action – a sort of EU foreign agency he heads – has yielded to Beijing’s pressure to change documents.
Von der Leyen described the relationship between the EU and China as ‘not easy, but what we are working on’.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.