EU and China get cozy, call to ‘improve’ world order

European Council President Donald Tusk (2-R) and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (3-R) meet with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (not pictured) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, 16 July 2018. [Pool/EPA/EFE]

EU leaders in Beijing today (16 July) sought to offer an alternative to the disruptive international policymaking of US President Donald Trump, who called both EU and China ‘foes’.

Premier Li Keqiang is hosting European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Beijing, where the two sides are expected to reinvigorate long-running investment treaty talks with the expected exchange of markets access offers for the first time.

The EU-China summit opened hours before Trump will meet Russian President Vladimr Putin in Helsinki. Before arriving in the Finnish capital Trump named the European Union and China as ‘foes’ to the US.

On eve of Russia summit, Trump calls EU 'a foe'

On the eve of his meeting with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump rattled allies once more by labeling the European Union a “foe” with regard to trade.

Trump has warned he may ultimately impose tariffs on more than $500 billion worth of Chinese goods – nearly the total amount of US imports from China last year.

China has sworn to retaliate at each step.

Tusk said he would repeat what he said to Premier Li a bit earlier.

“It is the common duty of Europe and China, but also America and Russia, not to destroy (the global trade order) but to improve it, not to start trade wars which turned into hot conflicts so often in our history,” Tusk said, adding: “There is still time to prevent conflict and chaos.”

WTO reform

Tusk said in Beijing that the world needs trade reform, not confrontation.

“This is why I am calling on our Chinese hosts, but also on presidents Trump and Putin, to jointly start this process from a thorough reform of the WTO (World Trade Organization). There is still time to prevent conflict and chaos. Today we are facing a dilemma: whether to play a tough game such as tariff wars and conflicts in places like Ukraine and Syria, or to look for common solutions based on fair rules,” Tusk said.

The Council President said WTO needs new rules on forced technology transfers and industry subsidies. French President Emmanuel Macron had called in late May for talks on overhauling the WTO.

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French President Emmanuel Macron called Wednesday (30 May) for talks on overhauling the World Trade Organisation, as European companies braced for the prospect of punishing US tariffs on steel and aluminium imports, which could come as early as Thursday (31 May).

“We want to see a united and prosperous EU”, Li Keqiang said.

He also argued that his country wants to seek more balanced trade with the EU.

China needs to advance investment treaty negotiations with the EU and both should share the objective of concluding agreements at an early date, Premier Li said.

The meeting is expected to produce a modest communiqué affirming the commitment of both sides to the multilateral trading system. Leaders failed to find sufficient consensus for such a joint statement after meetings in 2016 and 2017.

China’s ambassador to the European Union, Zhang Ming, said in a commentary in the ruling Communist Party’s official People’s Daily newspaper on Sunday that the focus of the meeting would be how China-EU relations could become a “standard of stability” amid the “din of unilateralism and protectionism”.

China and Europe are “two major forces of stability and responsibility” that support inclusive globalisation, Zhang said.

But the world’s largest trading bloc, while sharing Trump’s concern over Chinese trade abuses if not his prescription of tariffs, has largely rebuffed efforts by China to pressure it into a strong stance against Trump.

There is deep scepticism in the EU about China’s actual commitment to opening its market further, as well as concern that it seeks to divide the bloc with its economic influence in Eastern Europe.

China says 16+1 summits are good for EU

Annual summits between China and central and eastern European countries are beneficial to the European Union as a whole, the Chinese government told Bulgaria’s foreign minister, brushing off concerns that Beijing is seeking to divide the continent.

Nonetheless, European officials suggest that Trump, who has also targeted Europe with tariffs, has created a widow of opportunity to show that EU-China relations can be a bulwark for global trade.

The EU ambassador to China Hans Dietmar Schweisgut wrote that the EU wants to create synergies between China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” and the EU’s own approach on sustainable connectivity between Europe and Asia.

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