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Little good will at the EU-China summit

Frank Sieren
April 11, 2019

China and the European Union were at least able to issue a joint statement during their summit, but it doesn't contain much more than good intentions. DW's Frank Sieren says the really important topics are missing.

EU-China summit
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/O. Hoslet

European Council President Donald Tusk may have said there was a "breakthrough," but this is a willful interpretation of this week's EU-China summit. At least there was a joint statement, which was not the case last year. On the other hand, there is very little in it that is binding. Next year, there should finally be the investment agreement Brussels and Beijing have been working on since 2013. There will also be an annual report to see whether the steps are actually implemented.

Read more: China could be big winner in no-deal Brexit

China's viewpoint seeps through

Generally, however, the document is full of statements about having intentions that need to be implemented, of wanting to find solutions and of recognizing progress, but there is little mention of contentious issues. For example, one passage reads: "The EU and China look forward to the early launch of the joint feasibility study on deepening cooperation in the wines and spirits sector." Cheers!

Frank Sieren
DW's Frank SierenImage: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Tirl

Otherwise, there are constant glimpses of the Chinese viewpoint. Beijing does not recognize the Western perspective on human rights, but rather all "human rights," which of course includes the Chinese perspective. There is to be no negotiation on this subject and further "exchanges" will be conducted only "on the basis of equality and mutual respect." The West no longer decides what is universal when it comes to human rights.

Another passage, which Brussels is selling as a victory, is not worth much on closer inspection: "Both sides agree that there should not be forced transfer of technology." This is easy for the Chinese government to sign onto because Beijing also believes that no one should be forced to invest in China. But Beijing takes it for granted that Europeans who want to invest in China should adhere to Chinese laws. This sentence will thus do nothing to stop EU states from having to transfer technology if they want to invest in China.

There was also no progress in cooperation on the One Belt One Road initiative, often referred to as China's New Silk Road, or, as the EU puts it, the EU-China "Connectivity Platform." The EU is insisting China be transparent and follow "international norms and standards," whatever that may mean. Meanwhile, China is insisting "the law of the countries benefitting from the projects" being followed. Both perspectives stand side by side in the statement.

Read more: German engineers under pressure from China

Brussels can't stop the New Silk Road

In addition, China and the EU said they wanted to continue their work on a "Joint Study on sustainable Railway-based Corridors between Europe and China." However, the EU can't do anything to stop China from massively expanding One Belt One Road on its own. It also can't stop China from making bilateral investment deals with EU member states. Indeed, there is nothing in the statement to indicate that the EU is very critical of this strategy. China is already so powerful that it can prevent these viewpoints from being put down on paper.

Frank Sieren has lived in Beijing for over 20 years.