Brussels, Sep 14 (efe-epa).- The European Union demanded a more balanced trade relationship with China at a leaders’ summit on Monday.
Heading the EU delegation was European Council President Charles Michel, Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency. China’s delegation was led by president Xi Jinping.
The summit, initially due to be held in the German city of Leipzig, was being held via video conference because of restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.
At a joint press conference following the summit, Michel said the EU had warned that it would not be taken advantage of where trade issues are concerned.
“Europe needs to be a player, not a playing field,” Michel said. “We want a relationship with China that is based on reciprocity, responsibility and basic fairness.”
Michel said that while in some areas the two sides “are on the right track”, “more work needs to be done” in others.
“Real differences exist and we won’t paper over them but we are ready to engage, ready to cooperate where we can,” the former Belgian prime minister said.
The main issues discussed were climate change, economic and trade issues, international affairs and human rights, and the Covid-19 pandemic and related economic recovery.
The EU, which has pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050, called on Beijing “to show similar leadership” in tackling the climate crisis and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, of which China accounts for around 27 percent of the world total.
Michel highlighted the “robust” trading relationship the two sides enjoy, but insisted that Brussels wants “more fairness”.
“We want a more balanced relationship. That means reciprocity and a level playing field,” he said, pointing to Monday’s signature of an agreement on Geographical Indications as a “a big step in the right direction.”
Ahead of the start of the summit, both sides announced a landmark agreement to protect 100 European Geographical Indications (GIs) in China and 100 Chinese GIs in the European Union against usurpation and imitation.
An EU statement said: “This agreement, first concluded in November 2019, should bring reciprocal trade benefits as well as introducing consumers to guaranteed, quality products on both sides.
“It reflects the commitment of the EU and China to deliver on their commitment taken at previous EU-China Summits and to adhere to international rules as a basis for trade relations.”
Angela Merkel, who joined Michel for the press conference from Berlin, said the EU had applied pressure on Beijing regarding the slow progress of talks on an investment agreement, and echoed Michel’s insistence on securing a more balanced relationship with China.
“Overall, cooperation with China must be based on certain principles – reciprocity and fair competition. We are different social systems, but while we are committed to multilateralism, it must be rules-based,” Merkel said.
European governments have been under increasing pressure to take a more forceful position against China over its policies in Hong Kong, where Beijing has looked to put down a pro-democracy movement with a new national security law, and in Xinjiang, where the central government has been accused of oppressing members of the Muslim Uighur ethnic minority and sending millions to so-called “re-education camps”.
“Democratic voices in Hong Kong should be heard, rights protected, and autonomy preserved,” Michel said, adding that the EU “called on China to keep their promises to the people of Hong Kong, reiterated our concerns over China’s treatment of minorities in Xinjiang in Tibet and the treatment of human rights defenders and journalists.” EFE-EPA