The most important outcome of the EU-China summit is a series of mechanisms to discuss the differences that clearly exist on either side. DW's Frank Sieren believes that relations remain difficult.
From the closing remarks of the EU-China summit in Beijing, it almost seemed as if the Chinese delegates and those from the EU had attended different events. This is generally not a good sign. The most important points for the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, were as follows: "A global order based on common rules is in our mutual interest, but clearly we have our differences in what it means in practice."
"Secondly, ahead of the September G20 summit in China. I am happy that we agreed to tackle the migration crisis at the global level."
"Thirdly, we agreed to have another round of dialogue between the EU and China about human rights still this year in Brussels."
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker then pointed out the problems the EU had with the "common rules" and said that there was "a clear link between the steel overcapacity of China and the market economy status for China."
Agreeing to disagree
China refutes this link, aware that Brussels' tone is less conciliatory than German Chancellor Angela Merkel's a few weeks ago in Beijing when she insisted that Germany had not forgotten prior agreements and did not call them into doubt: "It does not help us to emotionalize the whole subject," she said. "I am convinced that we can find a solution on the lines of what was promised 15 years ago."
Beijing and Brussels are thus in agreement over what they are not in agreement over. Juncker said that Brussels would have an "orientation debate" about the issue on 20 July but - one step ahead - Chinese President Li Keqiang proposed a common working group on steel. In his view, the market economy status, which China thinks it should be granted at the end of the year, does not belong on the agenda.
Direct talks are more important than ever
At the same time, Li suggested that the two sides implement the China-EU 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation to strengthen economic relations saying this was very important in view of the weak global economy. It is not surprising that China does not want to pump money into the EU's infrastructure fund. Yet there are of course points at which the fund and the "One Belt, One Road", China's "New Silk Road" project which is very important to Chinese President Xi Jinping, intersect. There had originally been some hope that China would invest two billion euros in the fund.
EU-China summits are rarely as important as this one. Telephone discussions no longer suffice. Now, interlocutors have to be able to look each other in the eye when discussing important matters. This summit was also the first since Britain's Brexit referendum. Li said that whether Britain was a member of the EU or not, Sino-British relations would not change and nor would Sino-EU relations. The EU remains China's most important trade partner. China is the EU's second most important trade partner after the US. China and the EU trade goods worth a trillion euros every day.
A shift in the balance of power
However, it was clear even at this summit that the balance of power in the EU has not changed in favor of China, since the opinion of the Britons no longer matters to Brussels. Until now, they had always put in a good word for Beijing. China is by far the biggest investor in Britain. The debate about market economy status will not become easier without Britain. Merkel will now find it more difficult to play a credible mediating role in the EU.
DW's Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.