EU Leaders Air Issues with Xi at Beijing Summit

EU Leaders Air Issues with Xi at Beijing Summit
European Council President Charles Michel (European Parliament)

The Lede: Leaders of the European Union met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and other officials in Beijing on Thursday where they discussed disagreements regarding trade, subsidies, and the war in Ukraine as Europe continues to pursue a de-risking path. 

What We Know:

  • The meeting took place in separate sessions between Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang, and president of the European Council Charles Michel and president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. This was the first in-person summit between the leaders of China and the European Union in more than four years. 
  • Xi highlighted China’s promotion of high-quality development and opening up with a willingness to include the EU as a key partner in trade and economic cooperation. Beijing has taken issue with an EU investigation into its electric vehicle (EV) subsidies as well as potential technology export controls. 
  • EU officials arrived with the intention to ask China to show more vigilance with regard to Russia’s avenues of circumventing sanctions and to communicate with Moscow about the ongoing war in Ukraine. However, Chinese officials emphasized Russia’s sovereignty and interests. Foreign minister Wang Yi noted that European leaders should engage with Russia directly with its concerns.
  • Michel asked Xi to immediately deal with a list of companies based in China that are suspected to be involved in supplying Russia with dual-use goods that the EU countries may plan to sanction. Von der Leyen added that she expected China to take concrete steps to resolve issues of cross-border data flows, the lack of market access for medical devices, and the restrictive laws against the cosmetics industry.
  • The meeting comes a day after Italy formally announced that it was withdrawing from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) after becoming the first G7 country to sign on to the infrastructure and investment initiative in 2019. Xi took the opportunity to tout the benefits that BRI has brought to participating countries and to promote the compatibility of China’s global initiatives with the EU’s Global Gateway projects.

The Background: China’s support for Russia over the course of the war in Ukraine has frustrated European officials. Beijing has continued to purchase Russian oil despite sanctions while supplying Moscow with dual use products such as microchips and drones that could be used for military purposes. The EU has labelled China as a strategic rival and agreed to work toward ‘de-risking’ its supply chains and limiting dependence. The region recorded a $426 billion trade deficit with China last year. The EU’s Global Gateway is a €300 billion infrastructure plan aimed at competing with China’s influence in strategic regions in the realm of infrastructure spending and investments. 

Likely Outcomes:

  • China is likely open to any area where Europe would be open to cooperation, but it has accepted that the pendulum has been swinging away from those opportunities for now. Prior to the Thursday meeting, Beijing did not have a draft joint statement to propose to the EU officials, which signalled China’s low expectations for the visit. Yet, Xi noted that China considers Europe to be a ‘pole’ in its own right and not a ‘vassal’ of any other entity, a reference to claims sometimes made that Europe follows the U.S. lead. On Monday, Xi welcomed Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko to Beijing. Belarus has been sanctioned by the West and is Russia’s closest ally. This meeting can be seen as a message to the EU leaders that China continues to have warm relations with the European paraiah. 
  • In the end, the meeting did not produce outcomes in the most substantive issues. The EU is likely to continue its pressure campaign toward China in the foreseeable future and any course correction in this regard will likely take significant effort and time. This summit can be seen as a high-level face-to-face interaction to boost communication and dialogue between China and the EU, but has achieved little more than that. 


“China has started its global AI governance initiative and the European Union is right now finalizing its first AI act to ensure that artificial intelligence complies with our fundamental rights and our values. So even if our governance models are different, we agreed that we should seek to cooperate on artificial intelligence at the global level.” – Ursula von der Leyen, President of the EU Commission

“Sometimes European politicians say to us that China needs to speak to Russia, we need to speak to President Putin about [withdrawing] their soldiers. But this is a very independent sovereign nation. President Putin is making his decision based on his own national interest and security.” – Wang Yi, foreign minister and top diplomat of China

“The relationship between Europe and China has created enormous wealth on both sides, but it’s also clear that in certain areas that relationship is out of balance right now. We hope that there will be a way that [they] start listening to each other.” – Jens Eskelund, president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China

“The times when we were in intensive negotiations, finalizing the joint statements over days and sometimes nights, seem to be over indeed.” – Gunnar Wiegand

Good Reads:

A China, EU summit exposes divisions over Ukraine, trade and subsidies (AP)

E.U. Leaders in China Press Xi on Russia and Trade Imbalance (NYT)

Xi Tells EU Leaders China Wants to Be ‘Key Partner’ on Trade (Bloomberg)

EU puts list of Chinese firms with Russia links on Xi’s table (AP)

China dismisses EU trade deficit concerns as leaders meet (FT)

Europe is no one’s vassal, ‘relaxed’ Xi Jinping tells EU leaders in Beijing (SCMP)

Post-summit news conferences highlight the divide between China and the EU (AP)