Last Monday (22 June), the EU-China took place virtually. Even though both sides tried to play it fair, they agreed that the EU-China relations are more difficult than ever.
Ursula von der Leyen, Président of the Commission, and Charles Michel, President of the European Council, met virtually with the 2 Chinese leaders. The event should have taken place in Chine this year but due to the coronavirus, everyone gathered through technologies.
A relation mainly based on trade
Since 1975, the EU and China have developed their relations. An increasing Chinese economy interested European investors and exchanges between the 2 regions have become more important. Relations are governed by the 1985 EU-China Trade and Cooperation Agreement. New negotiations and updates have started since 2007. The current European Commissionner for Trade, Phil Hogan, promised to complete the negotiations by the end of th year.
In the 1990s, EU/China Trade overtook the Chinese economy itself with 45 billions US dollars in 1994. China and Europe have become reliable partners on the economic level and need each other. China has become a superpower and has competed the US and the EU over the past 20 years.
Nevertheless, there are many burning points between the partners. Textile industries, EU anti-dumping rules, arms embargo or Chinese cyberattacks are the regular sensitive topics.
On Monday, the talks were mainly about the current events. And it did not please the Chinese authorities.
Hong Kong security
Hong Kongers have been protesting for months against China taking control over the former British colony. The EU clarified its positions and defended its values : the rule of law and Human Rights. Von der Leyen and Michel expressed security concerns and military use in Hong Kong.
The rough Chinese response was very clear : there should not be any foreign political interference. It then includes the EU and each of its member States. First burning point. And no agreement on that. We can assume that the Chinese position is not a surprise but the EU wanted to make it clear. « It is essential to dialogue with China to defend our values, but we have disagreements on some main topics » explained Charles MIichel dreing a press conference.
The EU and China declared that their partnership was important and a priority for both sides.
The missing point : the Covid-19
The coronavirus was barely discussed during the visioconference. Despite China’s fake news and suspicious mangement of the crises, the EU decided not to talk about Covid-19.
The EU adopted the strategy of defending Human rights and rule of law rather than attacking over the Chinese coronavirus management. A choice had to be made as the EU could not depreciate all China’s doings. As Ursula von der Leyen said, China is « a systemic rival » and the EU member States cannot afford of losing trade relations with the Chinese giant.
Even though they disagree on many points, the EU and China are economically dependent on each other. They can’t offend drastically the other. They try to be as honest as possible. That is why relations remain very difficult and tense. With very different political regimes, the two regions are not likely to become best friends in a near future.