EU-China Strategic Dialogue: Remarks by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the press conference
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The meeting and discussions with the [State Councillor and] Foreign Affairs Minister of China, Wang Yi, has been longer than expected. It has been a long meeting. This was the 10th annual Strategic Dialogue between the European Union and China to prepare the forthcoming Summit.
It was my first strategic dialogue with the Foreign Affairs Minister as High Representative, but it was already our fourth opportunity for discussions since I started my mandate.
It had to be a virtual meeting, but we had an in-depth exchange. During more than three hours, we discussed a wide range of topics, reflecting the broad relations that we have. We had a very open and frank dialogue.
We first addressed our bilateral relationship, to prepare the forthcoming EU-China Summit by the end of this month of June.
We took stock of the progress made in the negotiations of our Agenda 2025 and agreed on the need to move forward on the remaining areas in which there are still concrete disagreements. I underlined the need to accelerate our work towards a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment.
In particular, I highlighted the importance of reaffirming all relevant commitments from the 2019 summit, which have not yet been adequately implemented, notably on the issue of market access, improving the level playing field, and reciprocity, where, on the European Union’s side, there are important concerns.
We want our cooperation Agenda 2025 to be mutually satisfactory and we will engage in talks in order to do so.
We will also seek to have a balanced and reciprocal approach on our cooperation, including on areas such as connectivity, which is an important issue, free trade, science cooperation, and also on media and cultural cooperation.
We expect to hold our usual Human Rights Dialogue as soon as physical meetings will resume, but nevertheless we raised a number of important human rights issues, including the situations in Xinjiang and Tibet. I also raised a number of individual cases.
Of course, I also raised the steps taken by China in Hong Kong, which risk to seriously undermine the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle and the high degree of autonomy of Hong Kong. I have been talking about this issue, receiving explanations from the China side, but I put on the table the need for China to take steps to de-escalate the situation and respect its international commitments and the Hong Kong Basic Law.
This was about our bilateral relations, then we have an important number of multilateral issues, in particular the coronavirus pandemic and the international response to the crisis.
We agree on the need to continue working together on global challenges. Some of them will be even more important in the post-COVID-19 world. In particular, we need to hold on to our commitment to fight climate change and reach the objectives of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement. We will have to “build back better” – all of us. We all need to seize this opportunity to transform our economies and societies in a green and sustainable way.
We talked about non-proliferation, including the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the Iran nuclear deal]. As coordinator for the implementation of this agreement, I expressed to my Chinese counterpart my appreciation for the support they are giving to maintain the efforts to keep this agreement in place.
As global actors, we also discussed about international and regional conflicts and the pursuit of stability in all corners of the world, from Afghanistan to Libya, from the Korea Peninsula to the Middle East and Syria. Most specifically, [we discussed] our further cooperation in and with Africa, also in particular in the framework of the effects and economic consequences of the pandemic. This cooperation could cover many areas, among them debt relief, support for the health sector and economic development.
Our strategic dialogue was a very intense and substantial meeting. China is without doubt one of the key global players. This is a fact, and China will increase its global role. We have to engage with China to achieve our global objectives, based on our interests and values. I am very happy to have had this important meeting and I hope it will contribute to the success of the forthcoming EU-China Summit.
Q. On Hong Kong, did you receive any commitment from the Chinese Foreign Minister on the de-escalation and the principle ‘One Country, Two Systems’?
Well, it is not the first time that the State Councillor [Wang Yi] heard our position on Hong Kong. We have been very clear that the imposition by Beijing of the national security legislation on Hong Kong undermines its autonomy and poses genuine problems, politically and economically.
The Chinese Minister [of Foreign Affairs, Wang Yi] reiterated Beijing’s position, insisting on the fact that, from their point of view, it does not jeopardise the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle, and that it is just a way of increasing security in Hong Kong and that this law should have been approved by the assembly of Hong Kong in the past years and that they did not do it. We exchanged views on that and we insisted on the need for China to uphold its international commitments and to respect the agreement they made with the United Kingdom.
Q: Did you raise the issue of disinformation campaigns by China in the European Union? And if so, what was your message?
This is a cross-cutting issue. On any issue, there is an underlying disinformation process. And for sure we have been exchanging views about the role that information and disinformation play on geopolitics today. We have been talking about it and we have insisted on the need to offer citizens true and accurate information. Tomorrow, the European Commission will approve a communication on that. I informed the Minister about our efforts to fight disinformation from wherever it comes.
Q. On the two major issues that you just outlined, namely the investment agreement and EU’s concern over the situation in Hong Kong, it seems that the Chinese Foreign Minister’s remarks to you today basically repeat the usual Chinese position. Are you satisfied with these repeated positions on these two very critical issues for the EU? If you are not, what would be the message to you fellow Foreign Ministers in the EU?
Today’s meeting is not the end of the [road]. It is not the last moment. Our relationship has to continue developing. It is important to have exchanges of views. We base our relationship on mutual trust and on the will for cooperation. This has to be built by having meetings, discussing, presenting their points of view, noting the disagreements, trying to look for agreements. For sure, we have not found an agreement on everything, the work continues.
The Summit will take place by the end the month, and we still have time in order to try to build on one thing that can be a deliverable of the Summit, which is the Agenda 2025, which sets out the concrete issues.
I understand that for China, to be presented as a systemic rival, is something that looks a little bit controversial. We have to explain what we mean by that and try to express how complex our relationship is, on which things we are disappointed, on which points we need to improve our relations, mainly on the economic side and on the human rights side. I was not expecting to leave this meeting with a full agreement on everything.
Q. You were mentioning that you exchanged views on many issues. Has there been any issue were you made progress in these talks so that a future Summit with China would be better prepared than actually it is now?
Yes, I think that both parties agreed on working constructively and on showing flexibility in order to reach agreements on the pending issues of the Agenda 2025. I think that this is today the most important deliverable on the table.
The investment agreement will not be ready for the Summit; that is clear. But the Agenda 2025 is still possible and also on the Declaration of the Summit, which contains important political positions on which we can enhance our shared, common approach.
I think that it is important also to show our common understanding on many things. For example, on the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action], the Iran nuclear deal, it is clear that there we have an important convergence of positions.
On Afghanistan, we share the same interest of ensuring the stability of the country once the retreat of the American troops has taken effect and the negotiations between the Afghan Government and the Taliban reach an end.
On Africa, cooperation to fight coronavirus, debt relief and all efforts to increase cooperation. In order to fight against the pandemic, the world needs more cooperation and less confrontation.
Q. Did you raise the systemic rival issue? Is that something that the Chinese have taken issue with?
We talked a lot about it. Words matter and sometimes they matter a lot. I am sure this important communication about China of March 2019, has quite an important relevance maybe thanks to these two words: “systemic rival”. What does it mean? Because the word “rival” is important in diplomatic language; because it is not a soft word. This has attracted a lot of interest. What does “rival” mean? “Rival” on what? Is “systemic” a matter of rivalry between systems? Or is it a systematic rivalry? There are two interpretations.
It is clear that we do not have the same political system. It is clear that China defends its political system as we do with ours. It is clear that China has a global ambition. But, at the same time, I do not think that China is playing a role that can threaten world peace. They committed once and again to the fact that they want to be present in the world and play a global role, but they do not have military ambitions and they do not want to use force and participate in military conflicts.
What do we mean by “rivalry”? Well, let’s go over this word. Sometimes, there are differences on interests and on values. That is a fact of life. It is also a fact of life that we have to cooperate, because you cannot imagine how we can solve the climate challenge without strong cooperation with China. You cannot build a multilateral world without China participating in it effectively, not in a “Chinese way”, but in a way that can be accepted by everybody. I think these kind of explanations are good, because I can tell you that we have talked a lot about what it means to be a “systemic rival”.
Q. Did you discuss the US push for an arms embargo extension under the JCPOA? What would you do about it?
This is a point on which we agree. We agree that the embargo was taken at a certain moment with a certain time schedule. The United States have withdrawn from the JCPOA and now they cannot claim that they are still part of it in order to deal with this issue from the JCPOA agreement. They withdrew; it is clear.
Q. Could you let us know what type of trust you have in terms of your ongoing relations with China, given the fact that there has been disinformation and concerns about transparency over COVID-19 and other reasons to maybe not trust them as strongly as you might have hoped.
Yes, you are right. Some weeks ago, in an interview with the French press, I said that Europe has been too naïve in its relations with China. I said that several times. I think that we have to build a realistic relationship with China in order to defend our values and interests.
Q. Est-ce que vous avez discuté de la crise en Libye avec votre homologue chinois ? Sur cette question, avez-vous été approché par votre collègue, le Ministre des Affaires Etrangères égyptien, sur son communiqué du samedi dernier ? Est-ce que vous-même, ou vos diplomates, étiez-vous ces derniers jours en contact avec [le Président du Conseil présidentiel du gouvernement d’union national de Libye, Fayez el-] monsieur Sarraj ou bien avec son Ministre des Affaires Etrangères ? Quel est le message de l’UE alors que la situation évolue sensiblement sur le terrain militaire et que, diplomatiquement, il y a une activité qui a été provoquée par le communiqué du Caire ?
Bien sûr nous avons parlé de la Libye. Tous les deux nous étions bien conscients des derniers évènements. A propos de l’initiative de paix prise par l’Egypte, nous sommes tombés d’accord sur le fait que toutes les initiatives qui sont en ligne avec le processus de Berlin, qui essaient d’établir la paix et la stabilité en Libye, sont positives. Donc, nous saluons cette initiative-là, parce qu’elle ne va pas à l’encontre du processus de Berlin mais le renforce.
Une fois de plus, nous devons répéter qu’il n’y a pas d’alternatives à une solution politique qui reflète les conclusions de la conférence de Berlin, comme elles ont été confirmées par une résolution  du Conseil de Sécurité [des Nations Unies] qui a aussi été prise avec l’accord et la participation de la Chine.
Quand les choses vont mal dans le domaine militaire, nous sommes plus intéressés par un cessez-le-feu. C’est parfois vrai d’un côté et parfois vrai de l’autre côté. En tous cas, il faut profiter de toutes les occasions pour obtenir un cessez-le-feu et pour que les discussions [militaires] sous le format 5+5 [et sous l’égide des Nations unies] recommencent. Et que les pourparlers [politiques] sous l’égide des Nations Unies recommencent également. Il n’y a pas d’alternatives à cela. Je pense que sur ce sujet nous sommes bien d’accord avec nos collègues chinois.
Q. On China, just to know if you talked with your counterpart about the fact that there are plenty of initiatives to sue China in EU and non-EU courts, to ask for damages from China because China allegedly lied about the spreading of the coronavirus at the beginning. Just to know if you talked about that or not.
I am not aware that there are so many initiatives to bring China to the courts in Europe. Maybe there are, and I am respectful of them, but we have not talked about it.
There is no EU government engaged on these initiatives, as far as I know.
Q. Aujourd’hui devaient s’ouvrir les journées de développement, donc nous pensons évidement à l’Afrique. Vous avez indiqué le soutien de l’UE en ce qui concerne la dette en cette période de coronavirus et dans le secteur de la santé. Envisagez-vous peut-être des coopérations triangulaires dans le cadre de la stratégie EU-Afrique également avec la Chine ?
Bien sûr, nous avons parlé de ça. Mais la réunion a duré trois heures. On a traité énormément de sujets. Nous n’avons pas approfondi la question au point d’entrer à quel point nous pouvons faire la coopération triangulaire. Sans doute, ça fait partie de notre domaine de coopération avec l’Afrique mais, honnêtement, nous ne sommes pas entrés dans ce niveau de détails.
Q. Should the EU should put more resources in terms of fighting against Chinese disinformation, propaganda, call it as you want?
We have to allocate more resources to the fight against disinformation. Not only to Chinese disinformation or the disinformation that can be related to Chinese sources of different types. There are a lot of people doing disinformation – among them there are Russian, Chinese sources.
Yes, I think we have to work more on that. Not only fighting against disinformation - trying to counterattack the fakes - but to present a positive narrative. The fight against disinformation asks also to present good information, not only to say “that is bad information”, but before pointing out what is wrong, we have to present things the way they are; positive information. Maybe on that we have not been active enough. My colleague, Commissioner [in charge of Values and Transparency] Vera Jourova, was saying that and I think she is quite right. That is why tomorrow we are going to present at the College a [Joint] communication in order to strength our capacities on the information side. But at the end, you know, on the European External Action Service, we can have more resources if the Member States allocate these resources. I am happy to work more and I am happy to devote more resources, but the Member States have to agree on that - not only preaching, but providing. One thing is to preach and another thing is to provide. If you want to do something, please allocate resources to it.
Q: Should the European Union follow the United Kingdom in offering specific or accelerated pathways to citizenship for Hongkongers who want to leave?
For the time being, I do not see that there are people escaping from Hong Kong as it was the case of other places where thousands of people were fleeing. For the time being, no European Union Member State has taken a decision about it. The United Kingdom has a special responsibility as a former colonial power and having strong links with the Hong Kong people, but other Member States as well because there are 350 000 European Union citizens living in Hong Kong.
Q. You said that you were looking into cooperation with China on Afghanistan. Would China be considered a partner that would be suitable in this area, given the treatment of Uighur Muslims? Were you able to say something specifically about the situation of the Uighurs? Did that come up? In a Muslim country like Afghanistan, will they really appreciate the intervention of a country that has such a poor record in its treatment of this minority?
I have not said anything about Chinese intervention in Afghanistan. I am just saying that China is a neighbour of Afghanistan. We have a strong interest in the stabilisation of the country; I suppose China also does. We have to try to cooperate in order to ensure that after 20 years of useless war, after the withdrawal of American troops and, I suppose, troops from other western countries, we have to ensure not only stability but also to try to preserve, from our side, the rights of the Afghan people, especially women, that have been achieved during these years.
I am looking for the cooperation of everybody who wants do to that. If China is ready, why not? After all, China is a neighbour and also an important actor in the region. But I have not said anything about China’s intervention in Afghanistan.
Q. A question not related to your meeting. Greece and Italy have signed the delimitation of their territorial waters, but at the same time the tensions with Turkey are rising. Turkey is not only showing maps these days, they are already announcing that in three months they will try to explore the natural resources of the sea in the proximity of Crete and the Dodecanese. Does the current framework for sanctions also cover also the Eastern Mediterranean? How can we end this whole deal? Last time you mentioned negotiations. Can we force the two countries to go to The Hague and solve it once and for all? How can we do that?
There is nothing new on that side. The framework agreement [on sanctions] is still there. For sure it can be applied to the events you are referring to because it is part of the Eastern Mediterranean. On the dispute between Turkey and Greece over territorial waters, there is nothing new, nothing that I can share with you. But the Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs [Nikos Dendias] my friend and colleague, has sent a couple of letters asking for the Council to focus on the relationship with Turkey. It is a complex relationship, it covers a lot of issues, we have been reaching out to Turkey on these issues from the Council of Foreign Affairs, we have been talking, not in formal negotiations but the Council will have to engage on that. In the next Council, at the request of the Greek government, this issue will be considered by the Council.
Q. Has the issue of 5G between Europe and China been discussed?
About 5G, it is part of our common concerns and it is part of our technological relations and security relations. We have also delivered a Communication from the Commission about how to deal with 5G, taking into consideration both dimensions of the 5G deployment. We have been talking about it and I expressed my concerns about the fact that, for example, the participation of European companies, which are very good at 5G technology, in the development of the 5G network in China is not as big as it has been for the 4G – just 10% until now. This is part of our discussions about the openness of the Chinese market and the development of European investments and this imbalance that is something that worries us. Yes, I have been talking about it, from a technological, security and trade and economic perspective.
Q: I have the impression that the European Union is much harder towards Russia than China. Do you think that the situation looks like the one half a century ago when the United States and China formed an alliance against the Soviet Union?
We are not in a tough position against one or against another. We just want to respect our values and our interests. When this requires a tough position, to put sanctions, as was the case with Russia regarding Ukraine. Even today, unhappily the situation remains difficult because there is a conflict at the border.
I do not think we have such a situation on any border related with China. There is no security issue as pressing and as important as they have been and still are on our eastern borders. So no, I do not see anything comparable to what you remember of what happened many years ago between China, the United States and the Soviet Union. We are not on a confrontational line; we just want to have realistic relationships in order to defend our values and our interests.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-191870