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EU leaders endorse China strategy

2 October 2020

At the European Council on 1-2 October, EU leaders confirmed the multi-faceted approach towards China – and agreed to hold a special meeting on China in Berlin on 16 November. It also looked forward to a meeting of all 27 with President Xi next year.

The conclusions on China welcomed the signature of the agreement on Geographical Indications but stressed the need to rebalance the economic relationship and achieve reciprocity. It recalled the goal of finalising, by the end of this year, negotiations for ‘an ambitious EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI) that addresses the current asymmetries in market access, contributes to a level playing field, and establishes meaningful commitments on sustainable development. It also calls on China to deliver on previous commitments to address market access barriers, to make progress on overcapacity and engage in negotiations on industrial subsidies at the World Trade Organization.’

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ASEAN-EU Ministeria, Credit: @ASEAN2020VN

Borrell at the ASEAN Regional Forum

15 September 2020

On 10 September, Josep Borrell co-chaired with Singapore Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan the virtual ASEAN-EU Ministerial Conference.

Borrell congratulated Singapore for its work since 2018 as coordinator for EU-ASEAN relations.

He noted that there had been a Ministerial meeting dedicated to our COVID-response in March, but as this was his first formal ASEAN Ministerial.

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EU-China Summit, credit: Consilium

EU-China Summit 14 September

15 September 2020

A second EU-China video summit inside three months saw some movement on the long-running negotiations on a bilateral investment agreement. The EU (von der Leyen, Michel and Merkel) acknowledged that progress had been made on rules for SOEs, forced technology transfer and market access. But von der Leyen told President Xi that further measures were necessary on food standards, financial services and the digital economy if the EU was going to ink a deal by the end of the year as planned. Critics note that there was no discussion on an action plan that might have included benchmarks related to a timetable.

Von der Leyen said the EU was disappointed at China’s lack of commitment to WTO reform, especially on industrial subsidies.

Prior to the video summit the there was an agreement on geographical indications (GIs) to safeguard 100 top food products from each side. Under the agreement European food exports will benefit from easier market access and protection in China.

On climate the EU called on China to enhance its carbon emissions reduction commitments, reduce its dependency on coal and to set a domestic goal for climate neutrality (50% of global CO2 emissions comes from China’s coal plants).

At the summit the EU maintained its strong criticism of Chinese behaviour in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. President Xi agreed that there should be a live human rights dialogue later in the year and held out the prospect of an EU visit to Xinjiang.

Both sides agreed to continue cooperation on research to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

On 10 September the EU and China also held a high-level digital dialogue with Vestager leading for the EU and Vice premier Liu He for China. Sources say that the meeting was remarkably frank with detailed discussions on ICT, AI, product safety of online sales, and digital taxation. China has also launched its own data security initiative in response to the EU’s GPRD.

The 27 EU leaders will now discuss relations with China at their next summit at the end of September. Public opinion in Europe is souring on China and the basic problem remains the difficulty of finding common ground between an open European market economy and an authoritarian state-led economic system. At the same time China has recovered faster than any other major country from Covid-19 and is set to grow at just under 2% this year – something other G7 countries can only dream of.

The EU press statement can be accessed here.

The day after the summit, Reinhard Butikofer, the chair of the EP delegation for relations with China, gave his assessment of the summit and prospects for EU-China relations in an EUAC webinar which can be accessed here.

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EU-India Summit

Successful EU-India summit

15 July 2020

The 15 July summit was deemed ‘very successful’ by both sides. The meeting between Narendra Modi, Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen covered a wide range of issues, including energy and climate policy, health, digital, security, human rights – and trade. The atmospherics were ‘good’ with Michel describing India as ‘an indispensable partner.’ A substantial joint political declaration reflected a large convergence of views of global affairs. There was also a joint action plan for the next five years (see below) and, among other deliverables, agreement to establish a new high level dialogue on trade and investment.

Moving ahead on the trade front will not be easy. The EU is India's largest trade and investment partner. But India represents only about 2% of EU external trade. After a decade of inconclusive FTA negotiations, the talks were suspended in 2017. Since then the two sides have sparred over agriculture, bilateral investment agreements, tariffs on electrical goods and data privacy standards. India did not join the ad hoc group that the EU sponsored to deal with the breakdown of the WTO dispute settlement system. More recently there have been problems over exports of drugs and other medical products which has prompted a discussion about the need to rebalance supply chains.

Nevertheless, the joint statement aid that ‘The High Level Dialogue will aim at fostering progress on the trade and investment agreements, addressing trade irritants and improving conditions for traders and investors on both sides as well as discuss supply chain linkages.’

Politically there was agreement to increase their cooperation on maritime security and defence, terrorism and cyber threats. China was not mentioned but was clearly at the back of participants’ minds.

On the economic side, the EU was keen to hammer home the message that the global economy recovery after Covid-19 would demand a strengthened multilateral system, a veiled reference to alleged protectionist tendencies by India. Both sides also agreed on the importance of tackling climate change and working together on sustainable modernisation.

Find the text of the road map for 2025 here.

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Press conference

EU-Korea leaders’ summit

30 June 2020

On 30 June the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen held a video conference with President Moon Jae-in of Korea.

As 2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the EU-Republic of Korea strategic partnership, and this leaders meeting was partly to mark the occasion. It is hoped that a live summit in Seoul will take place as soon as circumstances allow. Both sides are keen to deepen their overall cooperation.

There was considerable agreement on all major issues as both partners are strongly committed to multilateralism and a rules-based approach to resolving global issues.

Tackling the Covid-19 pandemic was a central theme of the meeting. The leaders discussed deepening cooperation on research and development of vaccines and medicines and agreed that any COVID-19 vaccine should be a global common good. Both sides reiterated their support for the WHO and supported the goal of an impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation of lessons learned from the pandemic. There was agreement to assist developing countries in facing the consequences of the pandemic, by means including debt relief.

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EU Ursula

Virtual EU-China Summit

22 June 2020

The first summit on 22 June between the new EU leadership team of Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel with China’s President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang was a virtual affair because of the Covid-19 pandemic. There was no joint statement and no joint press conference.

Instead the EU issues a lengthy statement recounting its side of events. The EU side accepted that EU –China relations ‘were crucial in many areas’ but at the same time, ‘we have to recognise that we do not share the same values, political systems, or approach to multilateralism.’ For our relations to develop further, ‘they must become more rules-based and reciprocal, in order to achieve a real level playing-field.’

Foe the EU a key indicator will be progress on the long-running negotiations on an investment agreement. Whether the investment agreement will now be finalised this year is an open question. The pandemic has not helped the negotiating process although some progress has been made by video conference, including a deal on geographical indications.

But if China does not accept the principle of reciprocity, end industrial subsidies and the practice of enforced technology transfer then the barriers would go up. The Commission had already shown it means business by presenting new proposals to tackle unfair subsidies and block predatory take-overs of companies by third countries.

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EU Japan VTC

EU-Japan Virtual Summit

26 May 2020

Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, Charles Michel, President of the European Council, and Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, held a Leaders' meeting today via a video conference. As shared in the joint press release and in the following video press conference by Mr Michel, the parties reaffirmed their commitment to work together to tackle global challenges.

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Igor Driesman

Interview with Igor Driesmans, EU ambassador to ASEAN

14 May 2020

EUAC: How has ASEAN coped with Covid-19? Are the ten members cooperating on travel bans, economic recovery, easing lockdowns, etc?

ID: I think it is important to emphasize just how unprecedented the challenge of COVID-19 has been for all countries and regions of the world. ASEAN, like the rest of us, has found itself in unchartered waters, and I believe they have done well to navigate their way through. The ASEAN Leaders held a successful COVID-19 Special Summit in April, which took place by videoconference – a first. The summit showed that ASEAN was ready to do more collectively, particularly in the areas of public health, essential medical supplies and social protection. Regarding post-pandemic action, the ASEAN Economic Ministers are due to meet virtually in June and are expected to discuss ways to support regional supply chains and coordinated economic recovery plans.

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EU-China ‘wolves v sheep’ media dispute

8 May 2020

The decision to allow the publication of an op-ed in China Daily censored under Chinese pressure has led to sharp criticism of the EEAS for the second time in two weeks. The article, co-authored by the EU ambassador to China and the 27 member state ambassadors, painted a relatively rosy picture of cooperation to mark the 45th anniversary of the EU-China relations.

But the Chinese had removed the reference to the outbreak of the coronavirus “starting in China, and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world,” something which Beijing has either disputed or played down in recent weeks as the ‘battle of the narratives’ started.

The news of the EU ambassador, Nicolas Chapuis, acquiesing to Chinese demands resulted in immediate calls for his dismissal. Reinhard Bütikofer, the chair of the EU Parliament Delegation to China, called for his resignation for ‘kowtowing’ to the Chinese government. Norbert Roettgen, the chair of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, also tweeted his shock that the EU not only adopted the Chinese narrative but also accepted the censorship.

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Outbreak to impact EU-US-China ties

18 March 2020

The novel coronavirus outbreak will have a major impact on relations between the European Union, China and the United States, the world's three biggest economic actors responsible for more than 50 percent of global wealth.

Some US politicians have sought to blame China and the EU for failing to tackle the outbreak, thereby showing zero understanding of the need for global cooperation to combat the worst pandemic in decades. Trust in US leadership is certain to take a further tumble after the US administration's erratic handling of the crisis.

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