Germany’s Angela Merkel says ‘political will’ exists to wrap up EU-China investment deal
EU leaders expressed cautious optimism about concluding protracted talks on easing European investors’ access to Chinese markets after a virtual summit with China’s president, Xi Jinping, on Monday.
“The political will must be there to have this investment agreement. And that political will is there on both sides,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
Xi agreed with the EU leaders that the pace of the talks would be “expedited” so the negotiations could be concluded by the end of December, state media Xinhua reported.
But there remains “a lot to do” on market access and sustainable development standards before the self-imposed end-of-year deadline, said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, which is handling the EU-China investment deal negotiations.
“China has to convince us that it is worth having a comprehensive agreement on investment,” von der Leyen said.
The negotiations are aimed at removing Chinese barriers for EU investors, including expanding market access in areas reserved for Chinese enterprises, addressing forced technology transfers and levelling the playing field with China’s state-owned enterprises.
In the meeting on Monday, Xi also called on the EU to adhere to peaceful coexistence, dialogue, openness and multilateralism, pitting the more conciliatory Sino-EU relations against the hostility between China and the United States.
However, Xi also faced fresh calls from the EU on human rights issues, with Brussels demanding that international observers be allowed to visit Xinjiang and EU officials be given access to Tibet – two vast areas where China is suspected of human rights violations against ethnic minorities.
EU leaders also criticised China’s approach to Hong Kong. “The national security law for Hong Kong continues to raise grave concerns,” said European Council President Charles Michel.
“The EU and our member states have responded with one clear voice. Democratic voices in Hong Kong should be heard, rights protected and autonomy preserved,” Michel said. “We called on China to keep their promises to the people of Hong Kong and the international community.”
Michel also urged Xi to release detained bookseller Gui Minhai, a Swedish passport holder, and two Canadians detained by China after Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou’s arrest in Canada in December 2018.
“We reiterated our concerns over China’s … treatment of human rights defenders and journalists,” Michel said. “We also called on China to refrain from unilateral actions in the South China Sea, to respect international law and to avoid escalation.”
On the investment talks, Merkel said China has raised “difficult” issues for the EU, but added that there had recently been a “political impulse” to get away from earlier “periods of stagnation” in the talks.
“We sometimes say China needs to move on certain points,” she said. “But the Chinese are clever negotiators; they know where we have constraints. So we need to take a balanced approach.”
She added that an agreement would not affect EU relations with the US, which is dealing with similar trade concerns with Beijing.
“The US has been negotiating an agreement with China for a long time. They have agreed on part of it. They are talking about very similar topics. I don’t see that this would be a problem with the US,” Merkel said.
But in Brussels, there is a more obvious sense of caution over the negotiations, with von der Leyen highlighting the still unresolved “famous joint venture equity cap restrictions” that she said China had to lift.
“[There are] fields we are advancing now – but I must say there is still a lot to do,” von der Leyen said.
“There’s a real interest to step up, to change things for the better,” she said. “So it’s not a matter of time but a matter of substance.”
The negotiations have already lasted seven years, and China elevated the level of negotiators – with Xi’s trusted aide, Vice-Premier Liu He, partly in charge – amid the strained ties between Beijing and Washington.