What can we expect from the EU-China virtual summit?

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EU-China relations will be put to test this week as European leaders sit down with China’s President Xi Jinping in a video conference this Monday.

On the agenda – climate change, trade, the economy – and Covid-19, which has soured relations significantly.

Germany — as President of the Council of the European Union — had originally planned to host the summit in Leipzig but postponed it due to the pandemic.

“It is not possible to shape the world of tomorrow without a strong EU-China partnership” had declared Commission President Ursula von der Leyen following the first summit that took place via videoconference on 22 June.

She will be leading the talks on Monday, alongside President of the European Council Charles Michel and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

EU Foreign Affairs chief Josep Borrell said ahead of the talks that China is “getting more powerful and assertive” while its “rise is impressive and triggers respect, but also many questions and fears.”

Reinhard Bütikofer, German Green MEP and head of the China delegation of the European Parliament, says that Europe has adopted a more robust approach towards Beijing recently.

“Europe is pushing back harder because the aggressive behaviour on the part of China… I would describe the situation by saying Europe is learning the lesson of how to be less naive and more forceful, standing up for our values and our own interests.”

The European Union and China are two of the biggest traders in the world. Since 2013, they have been negotiating to provide investors with long-term access to their markets as part of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment.

Prior to reaching any deal, the EU wants to ensure that China “respects intellectual property rights and meets its obligations as a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO)” as “transparency, predictability and legal certainty of the investment environment” have been set as prerequisites.

Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi hopes discussions move forward after his post-pandemic European tour where he claimed that an agreement could be struck by the end of the year.

“Progress implies cooperation by both sides, implies reciprocity, and implies trust,” declared von der Leyen back in June.

Any ongoing discussions between the EU and China, take place against a backdrop of growing concerns over Chinese repression of Uighurs and the situation in Hong Kong.

The EU has expressed ‘grave concern’ over developments in Hong Kong.

On July 28, the EU decided to limit exports of technologies to Hong Kong which could be used for surveillance in response to a recently-passed, controversial security law being imposed on the country.

It “violates the basic international relations norm of non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs”, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin had commented on the following day.

China has warned the EU not to interfere in Hong Kong matters.

Chances are these issues will be raised again during Monday’s exchanges as von der Leyen reiterated that human rights and fundamental freedoms were non-negotiable for the EU in the first round to talks in June.

MEPs are pinning their hopes on establishing a global human rights sanction mechanism, which German MEP Bütikofer says will allow Europe to sanction individuals responsible for human rights violations, “like the police boss in Hong Kong who is drilling his men to be as violent as they can.”

A Human Rights Dialogue face to face is planned between the EU and China later this year.

The meeting agenda also highlights that climate action will be discussed during the Summit, without giving any further details.

The EU has been urging China to commit to neutrality as soon as possible after 2050.

‘There is no such thing as clean coal’ UN chief Antonio Guterres warns China.

Both parties had previously agreed to strengthen bilateral cooperation for developing new strategies for clean energy and climate-related technology.

On Thursday, Executive Vice-President for A Europe Fit for the Digital Age Margrethe Vestager and the Vice Premier of China Liu He held an online dialogue on digital issues in preparation for Monday’s conference.

“This first High-level Digital Dialogue (…) shows the central role that digitisation plays in our economies and societies,” said Vestager, adding that “the EU and China will both play a role in defining how global technological developments will go forward”.

The special meeting came after the EU “raised outstanding issues on cybersecurity and disinformation” during the June Summit.

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