Chinese President Xi Jinping will be trying to win hearts and minds in Europe ahead of the US election in November, with a virtual summit next week to be hosted by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the South China Morning Post has learned.
The leader of Germany, which currently holds the rotating European Union council presidency, will be joined at the meeting on Monday by Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen, presidents of the European Council and European Commission, respectively. Other key players, such as French President Emmanuel Macron – who rolled out the red carpet for Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi last month – will not attend, despite earlier reports that he was to be invited.
“This will be the last chance for China to try to win Europe’s heart with real, concrete action before a possible [Joe] Biden victory that will undoubtedly strengthen transatlantic ties,” an EU official said, on condition of anonymity.
Trade will be the focus for the extraordinary summit, to be held on the date originally intended for a gathering of all 27 EU heads of government in Leipzig for a face-to-face meeting with Xi, which was derailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Two EU sources said the stripped-down meeting was not a replacement for the planned “27+1” meeting, which could still take place before the end of the year, despite the diplomatic stand-off between at least two member countries and Beijing.
A visit to Taiwan last week by Czech senate president Milos Vystrcil was condemned by Beijing, which demanded immediate corrective measures from Prague. Czech President Milos Zeman, who has sought closer business ties with China, downplayed the visit as “boyish provocation”, while some companies reported cancellations of Chinese contracts.
Sweden, meanwhile, continues to have frosty relations with Beijing over the continued incarceration of bookseller Gui Minhai, a Swedish passport holder. Stockholm has also previously called for EU-wide sanctions on China over the introduction of its national security law in Hong Kong.
The summit with Xi takes place amid a heightened sense of frustration and “promise fatigue” among EU diplomats and officials after seven years of negotiations with China over a treaty which seeks to protect European business interests in the increasingly state-controlled economy.
While the EU has long demanded China scale back its existing economic privileges for state-owned enterprises (SOE), at the expense of foreign – especially European – businesses, Xi doubled down on the policy in June when he approved a three-year plan to enhance the role of SOEs in China’s economy.
The EU leaders are expected to point out the importance of European businesses to the Chinese economy, especially in light of China’s need for a stable economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic.
The summit follows a lukewarm reception for foreign minister Wang during last month’s visit to five European countries.
His German counterpart Heiko Maas took the opportunity to chide China for its treatment of Uygur Muslims in Xinjiang, as well as the situation in Hong Kong. He also took a swipe over Wang’s criticism of Vystrcil’s visit to Taiwan.
When Wang, during a press conference in Berlin, expressed optimism that an investment treaty could be agreed with the EU, Maas responded coolly: “Let’s see.”
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This article EU looks for trade action on China in trimmed down summit with Xi Jinping first appeared on South China Morning Post