Summit with Xi Jinping: Few timid openings from Beijing for European leaders

The meeting to resolve issues in investment agreement between China and the European Union. EU: We want an agreement, but only if it's worth it. The Union presses on respect for human rights. Chinese President: We don't accept lessons from Europeans.

Brussels (AsiaNews) - There has been progress, but much still needs to be done in Sino-European relations. In short, this is the result of yesterday’s virtual leaders’ summit between the European Union and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The meeting, the continuation of a previous one last June, was aimed primarily at smoothing out the differences that hinder the signing of a major investment agreement between the EU and China by the end of the year.

Xi promised to increase food imports from the Union, which was appreciated by EU leaders, but the distance on issues such as the full opening of the Chinese market to European companies, an end to the forced transfer of technology imposed by Beijing on EU investors and socio-environmental sustainability remains wide.

The EU is in favour of multilateralism, as is China, but wants it to be promoted in compliance with the rules. In short: The Chinese must guarantee equal treatment to European companies operating in China, reduce the weight of large state-owned enterprises and stop subsidizing exports.

"The negotiations [for the signing of the investment agreement] have been going on for a considerable length of time," an EU official familiar with the dossier told AsiaNews. "Although there is an effort not only to speed up the negotiations, but to try to conclude them by the end of the year, it has been repeated at every level by the EU Commission that we will only agree to them if there is something worth having".

The EU source notes that EU leaders believe China understands the importance of having an agreement with the Union, both to ensure that Chinese companies continue to access to the internal market, and because in the current geopolitical context they need to be clearly seen as capable of cooperating and engaging with Europe.

With renewed insistence, compared to the past, the German chancellor Angela Merkel (current EU president), the president of the European Council Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, head of the EU Commission, have been raising the issue of human rights in China.

The European leaders said they were concerned about the Chinese authorities’ repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and Tibetans, calling for the admission of an international team the two regions; they condemned the treatment of Chinese human rights lawyers and journalists; they called for the release of Hong Kong editor Gui Minhai (of Swedish nationality) and two Canadian citizens, whose detention the Union considers arbitrary. On Hong Kong, European leaders demanded respect for the autonomy of the former British colony.

Chinese media reports claim that Xi responded in kind to European complaints. The Beijing leader said that his country does not accept lessons on respect for human rights, and that the EU must look to its own internal affairs.