Tuesday

5th Jul 2022

EU and China agree on words, not yet on action

  • Jean-Claude Juncker, Donald Tusk and Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang (c) face-to-face in Beijing (Photo: European Commission)

EU-China relations took a symbolic step forward in Beijing on Monday (16 July) when leaders agreed on a joint statement that includes trade and climate issues - something they failed to achieve a year ago at a previous summit in Brussels.

"A lot of common ground has been reached," Chinese prime minister Li Keqiang said after meeting European Commission and Council presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Amid EU recriminations that European companies are discriminated against in China, Li assured that "China wants to seek a more balanced trade relation" and that "its determination for greater openness is firm".

"Please let us know if you feel that you are treated unfairly," he said, referring in particular to intellectual property rights.

Last month the EU took China to the World Trade Organization (WTO), saying that Chinese law "undermines intellectual property rights of EU companies" by forcing them to transfer technology.

The issue has been at the centre of EU calls for more reciprocity in market access and investment opportunities.

"The EU took note of China's recent commitments to improving market access and the investment environment, strengthening intellectual property rights and expanding imports, and looks forward to their full implementation as well as further measures," said the joint statement adopted by the three leaders.

The EU and China also had a first exchange of offers on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI) which has been under discussion since 2013.

"What we need is an agreement that fulfills our common ambition and gives investors on both sides predictable and long-term access to our respective markets," Juncker said.

"Actions are more important than words," he insisted, hinting at some continued mistrust from the EU.

For the two sides, however, the most important thing - on the day when US and Russian presidents, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, were meeting in Helsinki - was to give a signal that the two main economic powers next to the US could work together to uphold multilateralism in an uncertain global environment.

New territory

"The architecture of the world is changing before our very eyes. And it is our common responsibility to make it a change for the better," Tusk noted, calling the EU, China, the US and Russia "not to destroy this order, but to improve it."

Tusk said the four powers should "not to start trade wars, which turned into hot conflicts so often in our history, but to bravely and responsibly reform the rules-based international order."

On the day after Trump said that the EU was a "foe", Li said that China "wants to see a united and prosperous EU."

He echoed EU calls for a reform of the WTO and agreed to form a joint working group on the issue.

"The EU and China are entering into new territory as ad hoc coalition partners," Fraser Cameron, the director of the EU-Asia Centre, told EUobserver.

He noted that the summit showed that "there is a new determination to do everything possible to preserve the global trading system, under attack from president Trump's unilateral approach."

But the summit's ambition may face obstacles, as a reform of the WTO would include issues that the EU and China still have to resolve.

"We need new rules in the field of industrial subsidies, intellectual property and forced technology transfers, reduction of trade costs, as well as a new approach to development and more effective dispute settlement," Tusk stressed.

Wishful thinking

"It is of course wishful thinking to believe that China and the EU are going to be able to reform the WTO," Alicia Garcia Herrero, chief economist for Asia at the Natixis bank and senior research fellow for Bruegel think tank, told this website.

"Other than a potential reform of WTO, not much of substance can be drawn from the meeting," she added.

"It seems to me that we are very far from any rebalancing from Europe toward China, even if minimal," she argued, referring to EU calls for reciprocity and a reduction of the role of Chinese state-owned companies.

"We are making progress," Juncker told journalists. But he added a hint of EU impatience, noting that "if China wishes to open up it can do so. It knows how to open up."

"I would argue that this is a missed opportunity for both parties given how much both are being bullied by Trump," Garcia Herrero said.

MEPs tell Chinese ambassador of concerns on trade

In an exchange with the new Chinese ambassador to the EU - his first appearance at an EU institution - the EU Parliament international trade committee called for action to meet commitments to open up China's market and reduce overcapacity.

Opinion

Has the time finally come for 'European champions'?

Since Emmanuel Macron took the French presidency in 2017, the concept of consolidating European industries to create continental 'champions', capable of competing on a global scale, has been revived.

Opinion

Nato's Madrid summit — key takeaways

For the most part Nato and its 30 leaders rose to the occasion — but it wasn't without room for improvement. The lesson remains that Nato still doesn't know how or want to hold allies accountable for disruptive behaviour.

Column

One rubicon after another

We realise that we are living in one of those key moments in history, with events unfolding exactly the way Swiss art historian Jacob Burckhardt describes them: a sudden crisis, rushing everything into overdrive.

News in Brief

  1. Turkey signs Nato protocol despite Sweden extradition row
  2. European gas production hit by Norway strike
  3. EU Commission told to step up fight against CAP fraud
  4. Ukraine needs €719bn to rebuild, says PM
  5. Germany records first monthly trade deficit since 1991
  6. Pilots from Denmark, Norway, and Sweden strike
  7. Report: EU to sign hydrogen deal with Namibia
  8. Israel and Poland to mend relations

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  4. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers for culture: Protect Ukraine’s cultural heritage!
  6. Reuters InstituteDigital News Report 2022

Latest News

  1. EU Parliament sued over secrecy on Nazi MEP expenses
  2. Italy glacier tragedy has 'everything to do' with climate change
  3. The Digital Services Act — a case-study in keeping public in dark
  4. Report slams German opposition to new child sexual abuse rules
  5. Is China a challenge to Nato? Beijing responds
  6. ECB announces major green shift in corporate bond-buying
  7. Ex-Frontex chief 'uninvited' from parliament committee
  8. Czech presidency and key nuclear/gas vote This WEEK

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us