EU tells China ‘differences’ must be addressed

EU tells China ‘differences’ must be addressed
EU tells China ‘differences’ must be addressed

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Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - This handout photo taken and released by the European Council Press Service on December 7, 2023 shows China’s President Xi Jinping (centre) receiving European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (right) and European Council President Charles Michel ahead of the 24th EU-China Summit in Beijing. — European Council Press Service/Dario Pignatelli/AFP pic

BEIJING, Dec 7 — EU President Ursula von der Leyen told Chinese leader Xi Jinping today that the bloc and its biggest trading partner must address their differences, in the first in-person EU-China summit in over four years.

Underlining Beijing’s challenges in getting Europe onside, news broke on the eve of the summit that Italy — the bloc’s third-largest economy — had withdrawn from its vast Belt and Road infrastructure initiative.

China and the EU have ramped up diplomatic engagement this year in an attempt to steer post-pandemic recovery and repair damaged ties, with a number of its commissioners visiting Beijing to restart high-level dialogue.


In opening remarks, von der Leyen, flanked by European Council President Charles Michel and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, told Xi “there are clear imbalances and differences that we must address”.

“At times our interests coincide,” she said, pointing to EU-China cooperation on artificial intelligence and climate change.

“And when they do not, we need to address and responsibly manage the concerns that we have,” she said.


Michel, in turn, said the bloc was seeking a “stable and mutually beneficial” relationship with China.

But, he said, the EU would also “promote our European values including human rights and democracy” at the summit.

A day before the summit in Beijing, Italy said it had formally withdrawn from the BRI, a central pillar of President Xi Jinping’s bid to expand China’s clout overseas.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has long been opposed to Italy’s participation in an initiative viewed by many as an attempt by Beijing to buy political influence — and whose economic benefits to Rome were limited.

Asked about that decision today, Beijing slammed the “smearing” and “undermining” of the project.

‘Zero trust’

The EU hopes meetings today will also provide a chance to discuss areas of common interest.

In his opening remarks, President Xi told his European visitors they must “jointly respond to global challenges”.

But other touchy topics are on the agenda, from human rights and Beijing’s continued ties with Russia despite its war in Ukraine to the yawning EU-China trade gap.

Von der Leyen warned this week that the bloc would “not tolerate” that imbalance indefinitely.

“We have tools to protect our market,” she told AFP.

Beijing hit back yesterday, saying the bloc’s efforts to curb exports of sensitive tech to China while balancing trade didn’t “make sense”.

European officials have said repeatedly this year they aim to “derisk” their economic ties to China after the war in Ukraine exposed the continent’s energy dependence on Russia.

Beijing’s goal this week will be to “hinder or delay derisking at a minimum cost”, Grzegorz Stec, an analyst at China-focused think tank Merics, told a media briefing yesterday.

Beijing will attempt to “project the image of a responsible global actor and to reassure European actors about the direction of the Chinese economy”, Stec said.

Also on the agenda at the summit will be the fighting between Israel and Hamas — as well as Russia’s war in Ukraine.

China, which has not condemned Moscow’s February 2022 invasion of its neighbour, welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin to Beijing in October, with Xi hailing their “deep friendship”.

Such camaraderie is unlikely in today’s talks with EU leaders, who one analyst said had “zero trust” in Beijing.

“Both sides are unlikely to get what they want from the other side,” Nicholas Bequelin, a senior fellow at Yale’s Paul Tsai China Centre, told AFP.

Von der Leyen and Michel’s schedule in the Chinese capital today is tight.

Following their meeting with Xi, the EU chiefs are due to hold talks with Premier Li Qiang before attending an official dinner and a news conference in the evening.

The Europeans have said they will urge Beijing to use its ties with Moscow to push it to end its war against Ukraine.

While China has stopped short of providing military aid to Moscow, it has deepened economic ties as Western powers seek to isolate Russia.

War in the Middle East and tensions over self-ruled Taiwan will also feature prominently in the talks, the bloc has said. — AFP

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