EU Official to Hold Follow-Up Talks in China, Top Diplomat Says

The European Union will send its political director to Beijing next week for follow-up discussions with China, the EU’s top diplomat said as he ended a three-day visit to the Asian nation.

(Bloomberg) — The European Union will send its political director to Beijing next week for follow-up discussions with China, the EU’s top diplomat said as he ended a three-day visit to the Asian nation.

Enrique Mora will travel to Beijing to continue talks with China officials on outstanding issues, the EU’s Josep Borrell said at a press conference in the Chinese capital Saturday.

The Middle East was the most important topic in the latest talks, apart from discussions on bilateral ties, and both sides agreed that the only long-term solution to the problem is a two-state plan, Borrell said. 

The EU’s relationship with China is independent of other nations, the diplomat said. In a speech Friday to university students in Beijing, Borrell said trust with China had “eroded” over Beijing’s stance on the war in Ukraine and warned that more trade imbalances with the world’s second-biggest economy would lead to expanded protectionism.

Europeans feel that China “maybe has not been using its strong influence to persuade Russia to halt this aggression,” Borrell told the students.

“We consider it essential that China makes a major effort to convince the people of Ukraine that China is not Russia’s ally in this war,” he said. “I think China should step up humanitarian assistance to Ukraine.”

Borrell’s comments highlight one of Brussels’s biggest gripes with Beijing: that China has provided diplomatic cover for Russian leader Vladimir Putin since he ordered the invasion early last year. In a sign of the tight ties between Moscow and Beijing, Putin is expected to attend President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Forum in the coming days in China.

In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Putin for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

Last month, the European Union’s top trade negotiator, Valdis Dombrovskis, blasted China over its failure to condemn Russia’s war during a visit of his own to Beijing. Offering some of the EU’s strongest criticism of China on the topic, Dombrovskis said this amounted to a “blatant breach” of Chinese principles on territorial integrity.

Borrell’s visit to China comes after after two earlier attempts this year were canceled. First he tested positive for Covid-19, then China called off a planned July meeting, which was one of the first indications that then-foreign minister Qin Gang had been ousted from his job.

Borrell also used his speech Friday to urge China to address its soaring trade surplus with Europe. The surplus surged during the pandemic as Europeans bought more goods such as personal protective equipment or electronics to ease working from home. From 2020 to 2022 it more than doubled, hitting $277 billion last year. The figure is narrowing in 2023 as demand cools, coming in at $17.6 billion in September alone.

“Public opinion in Europe concludes that the trade imbalance with China is so great that it endangers key sectors or a transition towards climate neutrality at risk and it will demand drastic, protectionist measures,” he said.

Speaking at a press briefing Friday night alongside Borrell, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China took the EU’s concerns about the trade situation “seriously” and that his nation would “provide a more enabling business environment for European companies.” 

China would also step up efforts to restore flights to the EU that were halted due to the pandemic, Wang said. He added that China would send Zhai Jun, who has served as China’s special envoy on Middle East issues since 2019, to the region soon without giving details. Earlier this week, Zhai used a call with an Egyptian official to call for humanitarian support for the Palestinian people.

Borrell said at the same briefing he discussed the situation in Israel and Gaza with Chinese officials. He added that he asked China to use its influence with Russia to resume the Black Sea grain deal.

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