a Sino-European summit against a backdrop of tensions

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At a virtual summit on Monday, the EU urged China to further open its market to European companies if it is to reach a bilateral investment deal before the end of 2020, while expressing concerns over Hong Kong and the fate of the Uyghur Muslim minority.

Advance in investment and trade negotiations despite increasing tensions, especially on Hong Kong : a videoconference with strong economic and political stakes began on Monday 14 September between Charles Michel, the head of the European Council (which represents the 27 of the EU), Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and Xi Jinping, Chinese President.

Originally, this summit in Leipzig with the leaders of the 27 EU countries and their Chinese counterpart was to represent a highlight of the six months of the German EU presidency. But due to the pandemic, the meeting, now virtual, is being held in a reduced format.

On the menu of the discussions, which began shortly after 2 p.m. (12 p.m. GMT), according to a spokesperson: the thorny Sino-European agreement on investments, the conclusion of which by the end of the year is judged ” possible “by Beijing.

>> Read also: Hong Kong, trade, cyberattacks … the EU and China explain a difficult relationship

According to the Europeans, this investment agreement should allow their companies to be treated in the same way in China as Chinese companies are treated in the Union. The 27 demand better respect for intellectual property, an end to technology transfers imposed on foreign firms in China and excessive subsidies to Chinese public enterprises.

An expected trade agreement

Will this agreement be signed by December? “There is still a lot to do,” the President of the European Commission admitted to the press after the virtual meeting. “We are very serious about gaining access to the Chinese market and removing barriers,” said Ursula von der Leyen.

“Overall, cooperation with China must be based on certain principles – reciprocity, fair competition. We have different social systems, but if we are committed to multilateralism, it must be rules-based,” he said. side, the German Chancellor to the press from Berlin.

Invited on France 24, Antoine Bondaz, researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research and specialist in China does not note “any really important progress”, except “some progress on questions of reciprocity”.

Sino-European bilateral trade represents more than a billion dollars a day. The EU is China’s main trading partner while the latter is the second largest market, behind the United States, for European goods and services.

It is not known what China’s response to European demands has been. There was no joint statement and Beijing’s reaction was not discussed at the press conference after the summit.

Another issue on the table, the climate: while the EU sets itself a carbon neutrality target for 2050, the Europeans want to push Beijing to beef up its ambitions by aiming for carbon neutrality in 2060, a peak in CO emissions2 from 2025 and by ceasing the construction of coal-fired power stations.

“China is a key partner in reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. The EU is raising the bar and counting on China to do the same,” commented Charles Michel.

According to Antoine Bondaz, the field of action of Europeans remains however very limited. “They have very few means of direct pressure” on Beijing, he said, adding that “China has not made any additional commitments compared to those it had made under the Paris agreements . “

“Democratic voices in Hong Kong must be heard”

As this meeting takes place against a background of growing trade and diplomatic war between Beijing and Washington, the EU seeks to find a balance, advancing its economic interests while asserting its positions on human rights.

“We reiterate our concerns about China’s treatment of minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as the fate of human rights defenders and journalists (…) one of the important points today is the proposal to conduct visits “of observers in the regions concerned, insisted Charles Michel.

For Antoine Bondaz, however, these observers “should be able to go where they want and in particular carry out a precise investigation into what is considered today as human rights violations”.

The United States has adopted sanctions targeted against political leaders, entities and companies involved in Xinjiang.

The Europeans expressed to Xi Jinping their persistent concerns over Hong Kong, where the application of a new security law constitutes, according to them, an attack on the freedoms of the semi-autonomous territory. The 27 had already decided to limit exports of equipment usable for surveillance and repression in Hong Kong.

This law “continues to fuel serious concerns (…) Democratic voices in Hong Kong must be heard, rights protected and autonomy preserved”, insisted Charles Michel.

With AFP and Reuters

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