European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen, top EU diplomat Josep Borrell and Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, are in Beijing on Thursday to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Quiang. The summit marks the first in-person EU-China summit since 2019.

Speaking to an AFP reporter who conducted the interview on behalf of the European Newsroom ahead of the trip, the commission president cited a lack of access for European companies to the Chinese market and preferential treatment of Chinese companies through subsidies as specific problems for the EU. According to von der Leyen, this is part of the reason why the trade imbalance has doubled to almost 400 billion Euro in the last two years.

”We have tools to protect our market,” von der Leyen said, adding that ”we prefer to have negotiated solutions”.

The commission is currently carrying out an investigation into potentially competition-distorting subsidies for electric vehicles coming from China, fearing subsidised imports could stifle EU innovation in a huge new sector.

”We have learned our lessons from the solar panels,” von der Leyen said, citing a green tech sector now dominated by Chinese firms amidst a global rush to decarbonise energy production.

Die Fahne Chinas weht vor der ehemaligen chinesischen Botschaft. (Zu dpa "China kündigt Seemanöver in der Nähe Taiwans an")
The EU-China summit is the first in-person summit since 2019. The summit will address the growing trade imbalances among other subjects. Photo: picture alliance/Oliver Berg/dpa

The commission president further stated that the EU wants to persuade China to use its influence on Russia, calling on the government in Beijing to take action against Chinese companies involved in circumventing the sanctions.

While von der Leyen highlighted China’s efforts in the area of biodiversity and the reduction of methane gas as positive, she also warned that China’s attitude at the COP28 summit in Dubai was under scrutiny. 

Von der Leyen also intends to raise the case of European parliamentarians sanctioned by Beijing in 2021 for denouncing Chinese repression against the Muslim Uyghur minority.

She further said that it was important to see China not only as a trading partner ”but also as a technological competitor, a military power, and as a global actor that has distinct and divergent views on the global order”.

Read the corresponding Key Story here.

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