28th Feb 2020

China looks to EU as 'biggest partner'

The EU and China have strengthened their increasingly close relationship with the signing of two important agreements in Beijing on October 30.

One secures China's backing for Galileo, the EU's satellite navigation project, and the other relaxes visa restrictions for Chinese tourists visiting Europe.

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Chinese Prime Minister, Wen Jiabao, told a joint news conference after the summit: "We hope the European Union will become our biggest partner in economic and trade relations".

China is currently the EU's third largest trading partner, with trade worth 86 billion euro in 2003, according to the Financial Times.


China has pledged to invest 200 million euro in the EU's Galileo project, despite intense objections from Washington.

The Galileo project, which will cost an estimated 3.25 billion euro, represents a departure by the EU from its reliance on America's Global Positioning System (GPS).

The Pentagon is opposed to the EU developing its own independent satellite system, insisting that GPS provides an adequate satellite umbrella.

The Commission insists that, unlike GPS, Galileo will not be under military control.

For its part, China hopes that its involvement in the Galileo system will help it to upgrade its communications systems, and provide greater accuracy for a broad range of civilian activities.

India is set also to participate in the Galileo project, the EU's Transport Commissioner Loyola de Palacio revealed on October 30. The details will be finalised at an EU-India summit next month, but India is expected to invest 300 million euro in the scheme.

"Third countries are more enthusiastic than certain European countries about Galileo", said the Commissioner.

Visa restrictions

In the hope of boosting the number of wealthy Chinese tourists visiting Europe, the EU has decided to relax its visa restrictions for the country.

Under the new system, which will cover only the Schengen area and therefore exclude countries such as Britain, approved Chinese travel agencies will be given preferential treatment for visas, provided that holidaymakers all return to China.

But critics of the initiative say that it could be open to abuse by Chinese people smugglers, says the Telegraph.

Human rights abuses

During the summit, both sides "agreed to continue their ongoing dialogue on human rights on the basis of equality and mutual respect".

But this is not enough to satisfy human rights campaigners, who have been demanding that the EU increase pressure on China to improve the protection of civil and political rights.

Concerns raised by Amnesty International include the continuing use of the death penalty in China's "strike hard" campaign on law and order, the use of detention without charge or trial, and the repression of Buddhist monks in Tibet and of the Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Human Rights Watch has been publicising China's treatment of those suffering from HIV/Aids, including a cover-up of the spread of the infection by state-run blood collection centres. It also cites repression of those campaigning for autonomy in Xinjiang and for trade union rights.

A spokesman for the European Commission, Diego Ojeda, defended the outcome of the summit, saying that the existing dialogue with China remained "the best instrument" to improve human rights in the country.

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