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Remarks by President Charles Michel after the 22nd EU-China summit

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Raad, gepubliceerd op maandag 22 juni 2020.

I am pleased that we could speak by video conference to discuss important topics for both the EU and China today. In fact, our diplomatic relations are 45 years old this year and evolving. Our discussions today were open and substantive and we discussed many topics, topics we agree on, but, of course, we also discussed topics we disagree on.

We focussed on four important areas. The first one, COVID-19 and the economic consequences, the economic recovery. The second one is the EU-China relationship. The third one is Hong Kong and the important question for us of human rights. And the fourth topic is related to international issues.

With regard to the first topic, COVID-19 and its consequences, we had the opportunity to express how important it is that we draw lessons from the international response to this issue in a fully transparent manner. We also had the opportunity to underline the extent of the commitment to vaccines which, in our view, must be a common good accessible to everyone at an affordable price. And we believe that ambitious recovery will be of huge economic importance. Moreover, we had the opportunity to explain the European process in relation to the EU budget and the recovery fund we wish to establish to support economic activity.

We had also the occasion to discuss the EU China relationship, and we stressed the need to implement the commitments made at the 2019 EU-China summit. More particularly, we discussed very concrete topics.

The first one is trade. We have a dynamic trading relationship with China. We trade on average over one billion euros a day. It's huge and the EU is China's first trading partner. But progress is needed in many areas to rebalance this relationship. And we made clear that we need to resolve concrete problems such as market access, subsidies, regulatory issues, public procurement, forced technology transfers, level playing field and WTO reforms.

We also had the chance to express, on both sides, our desire to continue intensive negotiations on the investment agreement. We took note of the progress that has been made on the agreements on geographical indications, the discussions on which we are confident we will be able to conclude shortly. And of course - as you know this is a key topic for us - we had the opportunity to highlight the importance to us of climate change and the international action that is needed to ensure that we can work for stability, because climate change is a threat to humanity and to the world, and because we believe that there is also a link with the economy and trade. Efforts are also needed to prevent any unfair competition from arising at international level in connection with these climate ambitions. You know our ambition for 2050 and the work we must do in order to identify goals in connection with 2030. We also believe that we must act within the international and multilateral fora to ensure more widespread international mobilisation on climate change. We also had the opportunity to discuss the digital agenda and the importance of ensuring trust. Ensuring trust means we must tackle cybersecurity threats and fight all the disinformation techniques that erode trust, because as a component and factor trust is absolutely vital.

The third point was Hong Kong and human rights. We expressed our grave concerns about the proposed national security law for Hong Kong. We called on China to follow the promises made to the people of Hong Kong and to the international community regarding Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and guaranteed freedoms.

I should like to add that we naturally support the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, and observe that 50% of European investment in China passes through Hong Kong. We note that there are 1 600 European companies operating in Hong Kong. In our view, the political neutrality of these companies should be respected: we will not accept pressure being brought to bear to undermine the political neutrality of these European companies established in Hong Kong. We also had the opportunity, more generally, to raise the issue of minorities and the issue of human rights, referring explicitly to specific cases - those of one Swedish citizen and two Canadian citizens. You know the cases in question, where we think that the detentions seem to be arbitrary.

Lastly, we had the opportunity to raise international issues: the issue of Iran, on which we exchanged our points of view, of Afghanistan, and of the Korean peninsula. We called for mobilisation and engagement to promote peaceful solutions within a multilateral framework.

We also had the opportunity to stress the importance of the security of maritime transport. You know that 90% of international transport takes place by sea, and the question of the South China Sea is of course important from the strategic point of view for the security of transport, and therefore of trade, and therefore of economic development.

As you can see, the videoconferences we held were an opportunity for intensive, detailed exchanges on all the issues which are international and multilateral in nature, but also within the framework of our bilateral relationship. This type of videoconference is an opportunity to promote the European values in which we believe: democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights, and the protection and defence of minorities. We conducted this dialogue openly, directly and frankly. We also had the opportunity to discuss the points on which we wish to make progress, in terms of trade and the economy.

It is an opportunity to highlight - concretely, not with words but with action which we want to undertake - this question of the European Union’s strategic autonomy, which in our view is an altogether crucial issue.

And lastly, we consider that this relationship must be based on transparency and reciprocity. That is the message which was conveyed and, in that spirit, we intend to continue this high-level political dialogue on a regular basis. That should be the case after the summer, when we will once again have an opportunity to continue this dialogue, to take stock of progress made on the various issues already referred and to return to issues, including difficult ones.

And you know that the summit in Leipzig, which was due to be held in September, cannot take place: an announcement has been made about this. But we still wish to hold a summit, as soon as conditions permit, which will bring together the Chinese authorities with all 27 European heads of state or government. These are a few points which I wanted to share with you this afternoon.

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