China and the European Union are set to hold high-level talks on the economy and trade amid tensions over human rights issues in Xinjiang and the war in Ukraine. This meeting comes after months of failed efforts to set a date for talks after the tense EU-China summit in April, during which the sides failed to agree on a joint statement.
Besides the difference on the issue of the Ukraine war, another issue that could prove to be a bottleneck will be an unratified investment deal that has undergone a rocky journey since negotiations concluded in December 2020.
“The 9th #EUChina High-Level Economic and Trade Dialogue takes place tomorrow 19/07. I look forward to co-chairing this important event together with China Vice-Premier Liu He,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, executive vice president of the EU Commission. Back in April, EU High Representative Josep Borrell said China wanted to set aside their difference on Ukraine – they did not want to talk about Ukraine.
“They did not want to talk about human rights, and other issues, and instead focus on the positive things. The European side made clear that this “compartmentalization” is not feasible, not acceptable. For us, the war in Ukraine is a defining moment for whether we live in a world governed by rules or by force,” he said.
Borrell described the last summit as a “dialogue of the deaf” after European officials failed to secure reassurances that Beijing would not offer practical support to Russia. Since the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, the EU has called on China to use its influence with Russia to reach an immediate ceasefire and to support humanitarian corridors. “We stressed that any attempts to assist Russia militarily or to help Russia circumvent the sanctions that were taken would be having serious consequences and would deteriorate our relations.
The Chinese side stuck to general statements of wishing to see peace – ‘we are peaceful people, we do not invade the others’ -, asking for de-escalation, but avoiding specific commitments or avoiding also any kind of blame on Russia,” he said.
Besides trade, the two sides in April this year discussed several international issues. The EU had called on China to play a constructive role in Myanmar, Afghanistan, and Iran.
The 27-member bloc also raised concerns over the South China Sea and called for preserving the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. In May 2021, the European Parliament voted to “freeze” a sweeping investment deal with China after Beijing slapped sanctions on European lawmakers in retaliation for the sanctioning of Chinese officials accused of oppressing the Uighur population in Xinjiang province.