EU-China Summit: Speech by High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP plenary

EEAS Press Team

Check against delivery!

Ms President, Honourable Members, 

I am honoured to debrief you on the last [EU-]China Summit, which is the 23rd, that took place on 1 April.  I had the honour to accompany both the President of the [European] Commission [Ursula von der Leyen] and the President of the Council [Charles Michel], in my double capacity as High Representative for Foreign [Affairs] and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission.

Well, most of you will agree that our relations with China are not where we would like them to be. Given China’s increasing assertiveness, both at home and abroad, it is clear that we do not share the same political values. To start with, we have a very different interpretation of human rights – and they recognize it. They told us: “We have our own Constitution and have our own interpretation of human rights”. And with respect to the war against Ukraine, China has an ambiguous position on this war, which requires to put plain facts on the table and to press China to do all within its power to be part of the solution to end the war. That was our primary goal, and the dialogue was everything but a dialogue. In any case, it was a dialogue of the deaf.

China wanted to set aside our 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. That is the question. We condemn the Russian aggression against Ukraine and support this country’s sovereignty and democracy - not because we “follow the US blindly”, as sometimes China suggests, but because it is our own position, our genuine position, we believe in that. This was an important message for the Chinese leadership to hear. We 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 circumventing 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. As I said, it was not exactly a dialogue, maybe a dialogue of the deaf, but certainly we did not come to an agreement on joint actions. So, we could not talk about Ukraine a lot, but we did not agree on anything else.

Because we did not hesitate to raise other issues where we disagree with China. We recalled our concerns about China's treatment of minorities in Xinjiang – both Presidents, both very much assertive and clearly addressed these concerns. The concerns about Tibet, Inner Mongolia – and our dismay at China’s dismantling of the “one country, two systems” principle in Hong Kong. We called on China to address global concerns on human rights and labour rights. We stressed the need to relaunch the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue – on this, I have to say, Prime Minister Li Keqiang agreed. 

The discussion also touched upon international issues. We called on China to play a constructive role in Myanmar, in Afghanistan, on Iran - I have to recognize that on the JCPoA [Iran nuclear deal], they are playing a constructive role - and on maritime security. We raised our concerns over the South China Sea and called for preserving the status quo in the Taiwan Strait. 

We agreed with the Chinese Leadership on the importance of cooperation on climate and environment, on biodiversity, and agreed that the High-Level Dialogue on Environment and Climate will continue through regular meetings.

It was clear that global recovery from the pandemic is a shared priority. You know that they are facing again difficulties, facing a new wave of the pandemic. We discussed cooperation on vaccination and confirmed our commitment to work with China on a new international instrument to boost pandemic prevention, preparedness and response.

At the same time, we requested China to lift its unacceptable and disproportionate sanctions against European decision-makers, Member of this Parliament and national Parliaments, and intellectuals. As long as Chinese countermeasures will be in place, there is no prospect for the ratification process of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment to move ahead. That was explained clearly - first, during my conversation for the preparation of Summit with my counterpart, the [State Councillor/]Foreign Affairs Minister Wang Yi, and then during the Summit.

We also were very clear about the need for China to stop its unjustified trade measures targeting Lithuania, a violation of the WTO rules and disrupting our Internal Market. 

We talked certainly about trade and investment – they wanted to talk about it, and we talked about it.  We pointed to the need to address asymmetries in our trade relationship and make it more balanced. We made it clear that China needs to address longstanding difficulties related to market access and the investment environment and urged China to find concrete solutions to some of these problems at the next High-level Trade and Economic Dialogue.

In addition, we also raised issues, including the crucial importance of level playing field in 5G procurement and contracts, and the cybersecurity threats were also raised.

We stated our readiness to cooperate on research and innovation, in common priority areas like agriculture and biotechnology, climate change and biodiversity – but arguing for a reciprocal relationship.  

We also stressed that as global humanitarian needs keep growing, China’s role as humanitarian donor should also rise. We underlined that being a good donor required a robust coordination, founded on an effective multilateral humanitarian system. 

That was the summary that I could give to you, because I think that the Summit was, as I said, not exactly a dialogue because one part was importantly focusing on Ukraine and the other was not exactly doing that. We talked a lot about Ukraine, without having any commitment from the Chinese side but I insisted on the idea that we, at least, should agree on asking for a ceasefire, for humanitarian corridors, and to make sure that Russia will not use any kind of chemical weapons or weapons of mass destruction. There are red lines that everybody should agree on this war – that certainly, we want this war to finish as soon as possible but the way the war finishes matters. And at least, we put these issues on the table and we insisted a lot on them.

We must continue the dialogue with them on the resolution of the conflict because China cannot pretend to be a responsible great power and close its eyes or cover its ears when it comes to a conflict that obviously makes it uncomfortable, because it knows very well who the aggressor is, although for political reasons  it refuses to name him.

I remain at your disposal. I am sure we will have an interesting debate about such an important question. 

Thank you.

Link to the video: 


Closing remarks

Señor presidente, señoras y señores diputados, 

Han sido cincuenta intervenciones interesantes a las que, obviamente, no puedo contestar una a una. Pero permítanme que extraiga alguna conclusión o alguna consideración adicional a las que ustedes han hecho. 

De esta cumbre no se podía esperar que surgiesen grandes acuerdos. La prueba es que ni siquiera se había intentado elaborar un comunicado conjunto de la misma - hecho atípico, no ha habido un comunicado conjunto de lo tratado en la cumbre. Pero a pesar de todo, y a pesar de muchas de sus consideraciones críticas, creo que a fin de cuentas habrá sido útil. Primero porque nos habrá permitido a nosotros, a la Unión europea, pasar mensajes fuertes acerca de lo que pedimos [y] lo que rechazamos, y también porque habrá servido para que la Unión europea se sitúe como un actor mayor en la crisis de Ucrania. 

China venía a la cumbre con la intención de decir “podemos seguir trabajando en el plano bilateral, no nos dejemos distraer por otros hechos ajenos a esta relación”. Y la Unión europea ha dejado claro que no se puede normalizar esa relación bilateral, los aspectos de inversión y comercio, sin que otros asuntos se hayan podido también resolver.

La aproximación de China a esta cumbre, a fin de cuentas, refleja un cálculo y una visión del mundo que le es muy propia. El cálculo seguramente era suponer que para nosotros, los europeos, los intereses económicos de China como gran mercado, eran suficientes para que no pusiésemos en peligro esas ventajas económicas por otras consideraciones. Y allí se han equivocado, en su cálculo. Si este era el cálculo, se han equivocado con él. 

Luego una visión del mundo, que es la visión de una gran potencia imperial, que piensa que por la fuerza de las cosas se presentará ante el mundo como defensora de un interés general, distinto al que representa Occidente. Es, a fin de cuentas, un cálculo clásico de las grandes potencias, y China tiene la herencia histórica de una gran potencia. 

Nosotros hemos dejado claro que la guerra en Ucrania no es un retorno a la guerra fría. Es un ejemplo característico de una agresión contra un estado soberano, y que China debe respetar la integridad de las fronteras – no de una manera abstracta y generalizada, si no precisa y concreta en el caso de la violación de la soberanía y de las fronteras de Ucrania. 

El conflicto de Ucrania no es un problema periférico, si no determinante para nuestra seguridad. Y, por lo tanto, sería impensable que ese conflicto no tuviese impacto sobre las relaciones de Europa con el resto del mundo, China incluida. Y por eso dejamos claro que esperamos que China no trate de contornear las sanciones, ni de ayudar militarmente a Rusia. Y, en eso, tuvimos una respuesta muy concreta del primer ministro chino [Li Keqiang] asegurándonos que China no pensaba acordar una ayuda militar a Rusia. China no estará en contra de Rusia, no lo ha querido estar y lo seguirá sin estar. Ni tampoco hará visible su ayuda, si es que la da. Pero procurará que esta crisis no se salde en beneficio de los Estados Unidos, que es, a fin de cuentas, a quien consideran su gran rival.

Por eso creo que esta cumbre ha sido útil, porque ha clarificado las posiciones de unos y de otros. Y creo que hay un aspecto – al que he hecho referencia antes – en el que vale la pena insistir. Creo que en esta crisis, China también tiene sus líneas rojas. Y las líneas rojas serían la utilización por parte de Moscú de armas de destrucción masiva. Así se lo hice saber explícitamente al ministro chino [de asuntos exteriores, Wang Yi] en nuestras conversaciones previas a la cumbre, y es de señalar que en el comunicado hecho público por el ministerio chino de asuntos exteriores hacían una referencia concreta a esta demanda europea sobre esa cuestión. 

Me parece que es esencial que mantengamos esa tensión potencial entre Moscú y Pekín con respecto a un límite que no se debe pasar. Esta cuestión debiera ser objeto de un proyecto de resolución en las Naciones Unidas. Y creo que tenerla presente en nuestras relaciones con China puede contribuir a evitarla. 

Finalmente, tenemos que seguir relacionándonos con China – nos guste o no nos guste. Tenemos que seguir haciéndolo teniendo en cuenta cuáles son nuestras prioridades y cuáles son nuestros límites. Sabemos cuáles son los límites de este ejercicio. Sabemos que los temas de seguridad alimentaria, cambio climático y uso de armas de destrucción masiva son ejes alrededor de los cuáles se puede intentar conseguir que China se comprometa en la solución de este conflicto, sabiendo - como he dicho - que hay límites muy claros para China y para nosotros. 

Muchas gracias señoras y señores diputados por esta interesante discusión. 

Enlace al vídeo: 


Nabila Massrali
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0) 2 29 88093
+32 (0) 460 79 52 44
Xavier Cifre Quatresols
Press Officer for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
+32 (0)2 29 73582
+32 (0)460 75 51 56