24th Oct 2016

No press at EU-China summit, again

China is "disappointed" and the European Commission feels "regret" before the EU-China summit has even begun.

The prickly remarks before the top-level meeting in Brussels on Thursday (20 September) came after a cancelled press event.

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  • No questions please, we're Chinese (Photo: Dutch EU Presidency)

EU summits are normally held in the EU Council building and open to any EU-accredited reporter to come and ask questions.

But this time the two sides opted to meet in the Palais d'Egmont, a Belgian stately home, and to limit which journalists could come.

Under the agreement, China was to hand-pick all the Chinese-origin reporters, while EU officials would pick the rest in a mini-briefing with just 30-or-so media.

EU officials told the Brussels-based journalists' trade union, Api, the Palais d'Egmont venue is too small for normal arrangements. But the union rejected the plan and the conference was binned.

It said on its website that the whole scheme is an attempt to keep out government-critical Chinese press: "Any agreement to sidestep media freedom such as by ... allowing the visiting country to have a veto over journalists from their or any other country is not acceptable."

The Chinese and EU leaders' post-summit remarks will now be broadcast by a TV feed with no Q and A.

In a flavour of what is to come, a pre-summit EU statement on Wednesday spoke of "strategic and comprehensive" relations between the two sides.

For its part, the European Commission blamed China for the press gag.

Spokeswoman Pia Ahrenkilde-Hansen said on Wednesday: "We held a number of meetings with our Chinese partners on this ... but it was not possible to agree conditions that would have enabled the press conference that we would have liked to take place."

"I regret it, but it's a fact," she added.

Meanwhile, China's official line is "there was no time" for a press briefing because of the busy summit agenda.

Chinese EU embassy spokesman Wang Xining told EUobserver: "Whenever there is something that does not conform to European habits and the commission is asked by press about it, it always blames China. I'm very disappointed about this."

The no-press summit on Thursday is the latest in a line of similar meetings.

Journalists were kept away from Chinese vice premier Li Keqiang in May and from Chinese politburo member Liu Yandong in April.

Back in 2010, the EU cancelled a post-China-summit press conference after it tried and failed to keep Chinese-government-critical journalists out on security grounds.

The Chinese elite is not alone in avoiding the 965 reporters accredited to the EU.

When Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov dropped into Brussels last year he met with the EU commission chief and the head of Nato, but also found no time for media.

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