EU presses China on trade, human rights during virtual summit

Meeting touched on four topics: trade issues, climate change, human rights, coronavirus pandemic

EU-China virtual summit 

EU-China virtual summit  (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — EU leaders and Chinese General Secretary Xi Jinping (習近平) held a virtual summit on Monday (Sept. 14) that touched upon trade and human rights issues.

European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and Xi ended the meeting with promises to speed up negotiations on an investment deal before the end of the year, according to Euronews.

Von der Leyen described the meeting as “frank and open … constructive and intense.”

Charles Michel said the meeting was focused on four topics: trade issues, climate change, human rights, and the coronavirus pandemic.

“Europe is a player, not a playing field,” Michel said in a post-summit press conference, referencing the growing sense in Europe that China has not followed through on its promises of fair and free trade.

Von der Leyen said that “engagement at the political level” in terms of trade, climate, and digital matters has increased but pointed out that “a lot still remains to be done.” Citing a lack of access to Chinese markets in the communications, IT, biotech, and health care sectors, she stated, “We see that our investors just face too many barriers in these key sectors, and for us, with market access, it’s not just a question of meeting halfway, but it’s a question of rebalancing the asymmetry.”

On the issue of human rights, Michel said there was “quite an intense discussion” with Xi, with the EU representatives voicing concerns over the Hong Kong national security law and treatment of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, reported France 24. According to Merkel, Xi offered to allow foreign diplomats to visit Xinjiang, but the details still need to be worked out.

The EU leaders also encouraged Xi to help deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and contribute to vaccine research by working with international organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO).

“It is important to continue understanding the origins of the pandemic, and therefore we were very clear it is very important to give WHO all the possibilities to lead its investigation on the origin of COVID-19,” von der Leyen said.

On the Chinese side, Xi put forth four principles to steer China-Europe relations: peaceful coexistence, openness and cooperation, multilateralism, and dialogue and consultation, according to The Diplomat.

Xi did not take part in the post-meeting press conference, but China's state-owned Xinhua News Agency said he rejected any interference in China’s internal affairs, especially human rights.