China and the European Union gave differing accounts of a bilateral summit on Monday, with Beijing talking of consensus while EU officials highlighted differences over market access and Hong Kong.
During talks with Premier Li Keqiang, EU leaders insisted on their key demands for an investment treaty and raised the issue of Hong Kong, according to the bloc’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell.
“There are still quite important differences [on the investment agreement],” Borrell told a webinar after the morning meeting with Li. “And we talked about human rights, Hong Kong.”
He added: “We are not naive about China. On that I agree with [US] President [Donald] Trump – he said the same thing.”
An official statement from China on Monday played down differences between Beijing and Brussels, especially over the investment deal the two sides had hoped would be signed by year end, to create a level playing field and greater market access for European companies in China.
“As for the China-EU investment agreement, Chinese and EU leaders noted that the talks have achieved progress, and repeated their efforts to reach the agreement within 2020,” said a statement posted on the Chinese government website.
“Leaders from both sides expected to reach a high-level and ambitious agreement, and agreed to take greatest efforts to reach consensus on the rules in fair competition and other areas as soon as possible,” the statement said.
Chinese state media reported that Li told the EU leaders cooperation between the EU and China outweighed competition, and there was more consensus than difference between them.
In addition, the premier said the two sides should work together to maintain stable supply chains as part of efforts to minimise the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
China was also willing to maintain communication with the EU to reform the World Trade Organisation and would “constructively” participate in multilateral efforts to fight climate change, Li said, according to state media.
But the mood in Brussels was significantly different. Ahead of Li’s meeting, three high-ranking EU officials spoke to the media on condition of anonymity – all criticising China for what they called a lack of commitment on a number of issues. Those issues ranged from the investment deal to WTO reform, climate change, data protection, disinformation campaigns and next-generation 5G technology.
On Hong Kong, one EU official said on Sunday that the issue “needs to be addressed as this affects our ability to further develop our relations between the EU and China”. Meanwhile, the EU was also concerned about China treating the US preferentially under its trade agreement with Washington – at the expense of its single market.
Another high-ranking EU official said a letter from Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He had been received last week, addressed to European Commission Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis. It “reiterated the commitment to implement this agreement [with the US] in a non-discriminatory manner”, the official said. “But we now need to operationalise it.”
In particular, the official said the EU expected China to allow European companies greater market access in cars, telecoms and biotechnology.
The official highlighted the need for Xi and Li to get personally involved, saying: “Now, we are advancing on a technical level with intensive negotiations, but what is needed to break the deadlock is engagement at a high political level.”
In terms of WTO reform, the official said: “We have had good cooperation with China working with them on the interim arrangement of dispute settlements, but on updating the rules of the WTO and creating fairer competition, we have not been able to follow up.”
Source: South China Morning Post