EU-China video call with Xi, Merkel and top officials to replace mega summit

Chinese President Xi Jinping with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Beijing in May 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

BRUSSELS (AFP) - Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top EU officials by video link on Monday (Sept 14), officials said, replacing a planned major summit due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The summit was meant to be one of the landmark events of Germany's six-month presidency of the EU, with the bloc's 27 leaders set to meet their Chinese counterpart in Leipzig.

But the virus threw those plans into disarray, with the meeting switched to a video call involving Mr Xi, Dr Merkel, EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council president Charles Michel.

EU-China relations are complicated with Beijing seen as privileging bilateral ties with European member states - notably through its "Belt and Road" investment plan - instead of dealing with the bloc as a whole.

Eager to attract investment, countries such as Greece, Portugal and Italy have openly embraced Belt and Road, vexing Brussels and many EU partners.

Brussels' attitude to China has sharpened in recent years, with the EU officially designating Beijing as both a potential partner and a "systemic rival".

The European Union is China's biggest trading partner and China is the bloc's second-biggest, though there are growing calls in Europe to reduce the continent's deep dependence on Chinese manufacturing.

Negotiating on behalf of the 27 member states, the European Commission has meanwhile failed to finalise a long negotiated investment pact that China insists can be done by the end of the year.

The EU has also teamed up with Japan and the US to draw up new ways to bring China to heel at the World Trade Organisation for over producing steel because of huge state subsidies.

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