BRUSSELS (REUTERS, XINHUA) - European Union leaders told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday (Sept 14) to open up markets, respect minorities and step back from a crackdown in Hong Kong, also asserting that Europe would no longer be taken advantage of in trade.
Anxious to show that the EU will not take sides in a global standoff between China and the United States, German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined the bloc's chief executive and chairman to deliver a tough-talking message to Beijing.
"Europe is a player, not a playing field," European Council President Charles Michel, who chaired the video summit, told reporters in reference to a growing sense in Europe that China has not met its promises to engage in fair and free trade. With more than a billion euros a day in bilateral trade, the EU is China's top trading partner, while China is second only to the United States as a market for EU goods and services.
The European Union also accuses China of breaking a host of global trade rules, from overproduction of steel to stealing Western intellectual property, which Beijing denies.
Xinhua News Agency reported that Mr Xi clarified China's principled position on Hong Kong-related and Xinjiang-related issues. He said the essence of the issues is to safeguard China's national sovereignty, security and unity, and to protect the rights of people of all ethnic groups to live and work in peace.
"China firmly opposes any person or force creating instability, division and chaos in China, and meddling in China's internal affairs by any country," Mr Xi stressed.
"There is no one-size-fits-all path to human rights development in the world. There is no best way, only the better one," he stressed, adding that countries should make handling their own affairs their priority.
Chinese people will not accept "an instructor" on human rights and oppose "double standards". China is willing to strengthen exchanges with the European side based on the principle of mutual respect so that the two sides can both make progress, said Mr Xi.
He also stressed that the two sides should properly address each other's legitimate concerns, adding that China follows closely the recent developments of the EU in 5G, foreign investment review, government procurement and competition policy.
Mr Xi expressed the hope that the EU will keep its trade and investment market open, foster an open, fair, just and non-discriminatory business environment and protect the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese companies.
European attitudes have also hardened towards Beijing because of the novel coronavirus, which many scientists believe originated in China, and because of a new security law on Hong Kong that the West says curtails basic rights.
"We are really serious about having access to the Chinese market and tearing down the barriers," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said at the news conference.
Dr Merkel said she and her two EU colleagues had pressed Mr i to be clear about whether it really wanted an investment agreement that is being negotiated between the two and which would force China to open up its markets.
"We put on pressure...to make progress on the investment agreement," Dr Merkel told reporters from Berlin. "Overall, cooperation with China must be based on certain principles - reciprocity, fair competition. We are different social systems, but while we are committed to multilateralism, it must be rules-based," she added.
The demand for a level playing field was justified today given China's economic transformation in the past 15 years, Dr Merkel said.
The EU also wants stronger commitments on climate change from China, the world's top polluter. The EU and China did sign a deal to protect each other's exported food and drinks items from feta cheese to Pixian bean paste.
While modest, the new deal is a trade coup for Europe as US, Australian or New Zealand producers will no longer be able to use the protected names on their exports to China, although there is a transition period for certain cheeses.
Mr Xi proposed four principles that the two sides should adhere to for developing China-EU relationship.
First, China and the EU should adhere to peaceful coexistence. As there are no identical political systems in the world, the coexistence of multiple civilisations represents the normalcy.
"The more firm the strength underpinning China-EU peaceful coexistence, the more guaranteed the world peace and prosperity," Mr Xi said.
Second, China and the EU should adhere to openness and cooperation. "China will seek better inter-connectivity and effectiveness between the two markets and resources on the two sides, to promote common development in a more robust and sustainable way," said Mr Xi.
Third, China and the EU should adhere to multi-lateralism. Mr Xi stressed that China is ready to work with the EU to step up dialogue and coordination at bilateral, regional and global levels, stay committed to a global governance outlook featuring consultation, contribution and shared benefit, defend the international order and system with the United Nations at the core, promote the political settlements of international and regional hot-spot issues.
Fourth, China and the EU should adhere to dialogue and consultation. "China and the EU need to stay committed to the mainstream of cooperation, resolve misunderstanding through dialogue, overcome difficulties through development and properly manage differences,' the president said.
Noting China and Europe are important trade and investment partners to each other, Mr Xi said the two sides should step up macro-policy coordination, take more measures and unleash more cooperation opportunities.
"The Chinese market remains open to the EU. More high-quality and safe EU agricultural products are welcome to enter China," Mr Xi said.