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Merkel leads EU-China talks to ease tensions



BRUSSELS (AP) German Chancellor Angela Merkel, senior European Union officials and Chinese President Xi Jinping held trade-focused talks on Monday, trying to revive slow talks on an investment deal and strengthen the confidence to tackle thorny political issues that hurt their relationship.

Merkel, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, was supported by Council President Charles Michel, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and bloc foreign policy chief Josep Borrell during the videoconferencing.

The talks between two of the three largest economies and traders in the world were an opportunity for Brussels and Beijing to take stock of their relations, with Europeans wanting to focus on economic issues, reform of the World Trade Organization, climate change and the coronavirus pandemic.

The EU sees China as a systemic rival offering great opportunities but also presenting many challenges. The pandemic has also created new hurdles, including what Brussels sees as a Chinese-orchestrated disinformation campaign about the disease that could put lives at risk.

China has been accused of trying to influence EU officials, and Borrell has twice denied this year that the External Action Service, a sort of EU foreign office he heads, has bowed to pressure from Beijing to modify documents.

While the EU and China’s largest trading partner of 27 countries is often divided in its approach to Beijing, the recently imposed security law on Hong Kong has galvanized the bloc. EU countries insist that the new law undermines the autonomy of the territories, which was guaranteed under one country, two systems.

Europeans were to stress their concerns over Hong Kong and tensions in the South China Sea during talks on Monday, and renew their call for a human rights dialogue with Chinese officials later this year .

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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