In Beijing, the China-European Union summit promises to be difficult

Lhe Chinese President, Xi Jinping, and the Prime Minister, Li Qiang, will receive in Beijing, on December 7, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, for a new China summit -European Union (EU). In April 2022, the previous summit, which was held by videoconference, was described as “dialogue of the deaf” by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs.

Also read the editorial (2022): War in Ukraine: between China and the EU, the peak of disagreement

Will it be the same this time? Despite the recent improvement in the climate between Beijing and Washington, the situation has rather deteriorated. The war continues in Ukraine and, far from putting pressure on Moscow, China seems to be circumventing sanctions. Visiting Beijing on November 24, Catherine Colonna, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, expressed concern about China’s implicit support for arms deliveries from North Korea to Moscow. The visit, Monday, December 4, of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to Beijing is not likely to reassure Europeans.

According to South China Morning PostHong Kong daily, European leaders could give Xi Jinping a list of thirteen Chinese companies not respecting Western sanctions. If Beijing does nothing, these companies could be added to the list of European sanctions against entities that help Moscow.

In 2019, the EU described China as “partner, competitor and systemic rival”. It is this last point which risks dominating the debates.

China denounces “green protectionism”

Despite everything, China has recently made some gestures towards the EU. Since 1er December, Germans, French, Dutch, Italians and Spaniards no longer need a visa to travel to China for less than two weeks. These five countries are those with which Beijing has the most commercial ties in Europe. Furthermore, according to the Lithuanian authorities, China lifted the sanctions imposed on Vilnius in November 2021 following the rapprochement of this Baltic country with Taiwan. For its part, ByteDance, the parent company of the Chinese social network TikTok, announced on Friday 1er December, wanting to invest 12 billion euros in Europe (Ireland and Norway) over the next decade to store the data of its European customers, in response to the EU’s concerns about their transfers.

This is because Beijing, during the summit, should emphasize economic relations. After denouncing the “de-risking” (“risk mitigation”), a concept presented by Mme von der Leyen in March and which Beijing assimilates to “decoupling” American, the Chinese authorities denounce the “green protectionism” from Europe. The most obvious symbol in their eyes: the opening by Brussels of an investigation into Chinese electric vehicles accused of being competitive thanks to subsidies distorting competition.

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