EU leaders to hold virtual summit with China's President

EU Council President Charles Michel is expected to press China's President Xi Jinping on Hong Kong.

EU leaders will talk on trade and investment with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday, despite tensions over Hong Kong's freedoms and Beijing's treatment of its Uighur minority, news wires reported. Chinese officials, EU chiefs Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will hold a video-conference to replace a full summit with all 27 EU leaders cancelled because of coronavirus.

China says an investment deal, already seven years in the making, can be agreed this year, but EU officials warn obstacles remain and insist they will not swallow unfavourable terms simply to cut a deal.

Brussels says "significant progress" has been made in talks since a similar video summit in June, and officials hope to agree a roadmap to a deal by the end of the year. They also want Beijing to improve market access for European companies. Brussels wants to reinforce respect for intellectual property, to end obligations to transfer technology and to reduce subsidies for Chinese public enterprises.

"The EU must define its own interests, and must be strong and independent of both China and the US," French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told the German weekly Welt am Sonntag.

No major breakthrough is expected on Monday but the EU side hopes to persuade Xi to give fresh political impetus to the talks.

The meeting comes as ties between China and the US deteriorate, with both sides locked in fierce recriminations over trade disputes, human rights and the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. Both sides have sought to enlist the EU in their spat and, during a visit to Brussels by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in June, EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell mooted talks to forge a common transatlantic front against China.

The EU will press Xi on Hong Kong, where Beijing has imposed a controversial new security law, a move denounced by the West as an assault on the city's freedoms. After the June summit, von der Leyen warned China would face "very negative consequences" if it pressed ahead with the law and the EU would limit exports to Hong Kong of equipment that could be used for surveillance and repression.

European concerns about Beijing's rights record are growing. During a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to Berlin earlier this month, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called China out over Hong Kong and its treatment of minority Uighurs. But the EU is far from united on how to deal with China, with some member states urging a tougher stance on rights and the environment, and others wanting to boost trade.

 

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