by N. Peter Kramer
September 14. While the initial summit lost its official in-person character due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 3 EU leaders and the Chinese leader attended a virtual meeting via videoconference. The main result of the summit was that the leaders agreed on speeding up negotiations to conclude a long-standing investment deal. Promises were made to try to realise an investment treaty before the end of the year.
After the meeting, Commission President Von der Leyen said it was a positive sign that China had sent a high-level team to negotiate on the investment pact. ‘We have an agreement on three important issues,’ she told reporters, ‘on the disciplines regarding the behaviours of state-owned enterprises, on technology transfer and on transparency of subsidies’. However, she emphasised that ‘there is still a lot which remains to be done in other important and difficult chapters, particularly in two areas: market access and sustainable development’. Indeed, China still has not agreed on opening important sectors such as telecom, IT, health, financial services and manufacturing…
And what about human rights? Pressure had been rising in recent weeks on the EU and Germany to take a stronger stance against China on the detention of Uighur Muslims, against Beijing’s new National Security Law in Hong Kong and unilateral actions in the South East China Sea threatening Taiwan. Asked by reporters if Beijing would take notice of EU human rights concerns, Angela Merkel said ‘we will see what comes out of it. But there was no agreement about these issues’.
China was not part of the post-summit press conference and there was no joint statement. The state-owned Xinhua News Agency reported that Xi rejected any interference in Chinese affairs, particularly on human rights. ‘Chinese people will not accept an instructor on human rights and oppose double standards’, Xi was quoted as saying during the summit.
Ahead of the summit, MEPs wrote a letter to Merkel, Von der Leyen and Michel calling for ‘targeted sanctions and asset freezes of Chinese officials responsible for policies violating human rights’. But in the end, isn’t it the case that that which is heaviest is weighing the most for the EU top troika?