BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union leaders told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday to open markets, respect minorities and avoid a crackdown in Hong Kong, also saying Europe would no longer benefit in trade.
Anxious to show that the EU will not take sides in a global stalemate between China and the United States, German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined the bloc chief executive and chairman to deliver a stern message to Beijing.
Europe is a player, not a playing field, European Council President Charles Michel, who chaired the video summit, told reporters referring to a growing sense in Europe that China has not kept its promises to commit in a fair and free trade.
With more than one billion euros a day in bilateral trade, the EU is China’s main trading partner, while China is second only to the United States as a market for EU goods and services.
China’s response to EU demands was unclear. It was not part of the post-summit press conference and had no joint statement.
But the European Union accuses China of breaking a host of global trade rules, from over-production of steel to theft of Western intellectual property, which Beijing denies.
European attitudes have also hardened towards Beijing because of the new coronavirus, which many scientists believe originates in China, and because of a new security law for Hong Kong that the West says restricts fundamental rights.
“We are really serious about gaining access to the Chinese market and breaking down barriers,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference.
Merkel said she and her two EU counterparts had pressured Xi to be clear if she really wanted an investment deal being negotiated between the two that would force China to open its markets.
“We have been pushing … to make progress on the investment agreement,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin.
In general, cooperation with China should be based on several principles – reciprocity, fair competition. We are different social systems, but while we are committed to multilateralism, it must be based on rules, she added.
The demand for an equal playing field was justified today given China’s economic transformation in the last 15 years, Merkel said.
The EU also wants stronger commitments on climate change from China, the world’s leading polluter.
The EU and China signed an agreement to protect the food and beverages exported by others from sliced cheese to Pixian bean paste.
While modest, the new deal is a trade-off for Europe as US, Australian or New Zealand manufacturers will no longer be able to use protected names in their exports to China, although there is a transition period for certain cheeses.
Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Robin Emmott; Additional reporting by Paul Carrel, Michelle Adair and Thomas Escritt in Berlin, edited by Louise Heavens / Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Grant McCool
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