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21st Oct 2018

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Ashton pursues closer links with China as EU reassesses global ties

  • Ms Ashton had close dealings with China during her time as EU trade commissioner (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

At a time when Europe is reassessing its role in the world, EU top diplomat Catherine Ashton has stressed the need for strong bilateral relationships, especially with China.

Speaking after an informal meeting of foreign ministers last week (10-11 September), Ms Ashton told a news conference that the 27-member group needed to build "big economic and political partnerships that have the potential to change our lives."

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The rhetoric comes as EU leaders prepare to meet in Brussels this Thursday to discuss foreign policy issues, aware that the global financial crisis has contributed to change in the global pecking order, with many developing countries increasingly on the ascendancy.

Ms Ashton briefed the Brussels-based gathering on her recent one-week trip to the Middle Kingdom, stressing the importance of strong ties with the world's second largest economy in the new Lisbon Treaty era.

Officials suggest that common agreements made during the visit are likely to become official when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao travels to Brussels in early October for an EU-China summit.

Despite the increasing EU attention directed towards Beijing, causing Ms Ashton to miss the start of a fresh round of Middle East peace talks in Washington this month, the two sides continue to harbour a number of concerns about each other.

Ms Ashton has warned against Chinese companies simply filling the void left by EU counterparts complying with new economic sanctions against Iran.

Similarly, Europe still remains divided on lifting its arms embargo with China, put in place in 1989 following the events in Tiananmen Square.

China has repeated called for the measure to be scrapped.

The issue was discussed at the informal EU foreign ministers' meeting, with a circulated document examining the possibility of lifting the embargo, provided certain conditions were met.

The potential conditions could include improved ties with Taiwan or an amnesty for arrests linked to events at Tiananmen, but the foreign ministers failed to reach an agreement.

"We discussed delivering arms to China but did not advance at all towards a solution or joint position," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said at the close of the meeting.

"France has long been favourable" to ending the embargo, he said. "But we need a joint stand."

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