Top officials from China and the European Union expressed a desire yesterday to boost ties between their giant economies, ahead of a summit in Brussels that was being overshadowed by the crisis in Greece.
Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang announced at a pre-summit meeting of business leaders that his country is willing to cooperate with the EU in large infrastructure projects, as part of a new investment plan in the bloc, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
“We have to do more in order to better interconnect the Chinese and the EU economies,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said at the event. “As far as trade and commerce are concerned, we have to remove all the barriers which do exist amongst us.”
“The EU is a strong and reliable partner for China,” he added.
But the 28-country European bloc is being severely shaken this week by the economic crisis in Greece, with fears rife that the country is about to go bankrupt. Juncker publicly apologised to Li several times for rescheduling meetings yesterday at short notice because of the situation in Greece. Juncker was taking part in the EU-China summit yesterday evening along with Li and EU President Donald Tusk.
The summit – the 17th of its kind – comes as the two sides mark four decades of diplomatic relations.
“EU-China (is) 40 years old and (has) lots of potential ahead,” European Parliament President Martin Schulz wrote on Twitter after meeting with Li yesterday morning. But the relationship between Beijing and Brussels has often been strained, notably on trade and human rights issues.
Non-governmental organisations have urged the EU to push Beijing on human rights issue such as the handling of political opponents and the situation in Tibet.
But Juncker said at the business event that he did not “want to lecture China on human rights.” “Although from time to time we have divergences on views – mainly as far as human rights are concerned – I was always strongly believing in the capacity of the Chinese nation and of the Chinese leadership to engage with us on common avenues,” he said.
The two sides are currently negotiating an investment agreement, which European politicians and businesses hope will improve access to China’s economy. The “business atmosphere (in China) is deteriorating,” Juncker noted. Migration, climate change and diplomatic crises in places such as Ukraine, Syria and the South China Sea were also expected to be on the summit agenda.
Joint written statements are also expected to be issued, including on climate change. Hopes are high that a “positive message” will be sent ahead of a global climate change summit in Paris at the end of the year, an EU source said on condition of anonymity.
“China seems conscious that an ambitious climate agreement is necessary,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said after meeting Li yesterday morning, according to the Belga news agency.