China’s Xi Looks to Firm Up Europe Ties in Talks With Merkel

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to hold talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European leaders, as Beijing seeks to keep the continent from aligning more closely with the U.S. on disputes ranging from market access to human rights.

The summit including European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council leader Charles Michel is slated to be held by video link Monday in an event scaled down amid the coronavirus pandemic. The meeting was originally intended to include representatives from all 27 European Union members in Leipzig to mark Germany’s six-month chairmanship of the EU Council.

While expectations for policy breakthroughs are low, Beijing is seeking to stabilize a relationship shaken by the pandemic, economic downturns, the police crackdown in Hong Kong and American demands for a united stand against Beijing. The summit comes ahead of the U.S. presidential election, which could alter Washington’s approach to Brussels, and a European Council summit later this month, in which leaders aim to craft a more uniform China policy.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that Europe needed to adopt a unified position on dealing with China. “The EU has to define its own interests, has to be strong and independent — from both China and the U.S. This is crucial to be successful in the 21st century,” Le Maire said.

Besides pressing questions about the global fight against Covid-19 and access by business travelers, the two sides continue to face disagreements about over market access and data security — both issues in which the U.S. has demanded greater support from Europe. Last month, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo argued during a speech in Prague that China posed a greater threat to the region than Russia.

For more on China-Europe ties:
  • Tense Berlin Exchange Shows China’s Struggle to Charm Europe
  • China Moves to Restore Friendly Europe Ties to Counter U.S.
  • China Set to Face European Demands for Tougher Climate Goals
  • European Firms in China Urge Fairer Treatment, Return of Workers

“The EU will no longer be satisfied with more promises from China, but wants concrete actions, such as for them to be reflected in government decisions,” said Wang Yiwei, a former Chinese diplomat in Brussels and director of Renmin University’s Center for European Studies. “There’s still a possibility that the weather will change in China-EU ties, which China doesn’t want to see, as it is already under huge pressure from the U.S.”

China’s efforts to push back have faced complications, with Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong in June galvanizing criticism of the country’s record on human rights issues. Tensions were visible during a recent European swing by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in which his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, admonished him for threatening ties with the Czech Republic over a top Czech lawmaker’s trip to Taiwan.

The Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper argued in an editorial Monday ahead of the meeting that it was in European interests to strengthen ties with China. “Despite all the fuss, Europe will keep expanding cooperation with China,” the paper said.

— With assistance by Colum Murphy, and Jing Li

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