Remarks by President Charles Michel following the meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping

Good afternoon,

First of all I would like to thank President Xi for hosting us in China today. And I would like to  present to the people of China my sincere condolences for the death of your former President Jiang Zemin.

The EU promotes its interests and its values in the world. I have come to Beijing to engage in a candid, in-depth, and face-to-face dialogue with China’s leadership. Today’s meeting with President Xi Jinping took some three hours. I also met with Prime minister Li Keqiang and the chairman of the National People’s Congress, Li Zhanshu. It’s our first in-person meeting since I took office, due to COVID. My last visit to China was as Belgian Prime Minister in November 2016.

A few weeks ago, I put a discussion on the EU-China relationship on the agenda of the European Council. The 27 leaders agreed on the critical importance of the EU-China relationship. We discussed how to best manage it in Europe’s interest but also in the global interest.

Today, we know that the world faces multiple crises. The war in Ukraine, the energy and food crises, and the slow-down of the global economy. On top of climate change and global health. These global issues require dialogue and action. We need to discuss where we can work better together, but also to discuss and manage our differences. I believe in the power of dialogue.

Both the EU and China have an interest in a rules-based world with the UN Charter at its core.

We had the occasion to discuss Russia’s war against Ukraine. China is a global player and a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council. We all share the responsibility to work for peace and for the respect of the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter. I urged President Xi — as we did at our EU-China Summit in April — to use his influence on Russia to respect the UN charter.

The Kremlin’s attack on a sovereign nation blatantly violates international law. President Xi and I agreed that nuclear threats are not acceptable and highly dangerous, and endanger the international community.

I also raised the issue of human rights, fundamental freedoms and the rights of minorities.

Human rights are universal. I welcome the readiness to resume the EU-China Human Rights Dialogue. We will follow up on this commitment. This format has not convened for more than three years.  So, this is an important signal. The Dialogue will allow us to focus on wider human rights policy issues and on individual cases. The right of peaceful assembly is a fundamental right enshrined both in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in national constitutions.

I also raised the situation of minorities. We discussed for instance at length the situation in Xinjiang. This is not about interfering with internal affairs. It’s about upholding the principles agreed by the UN for decades and this also applies to Hong Kong. It’s essential that we continue to talk.

We also discussed issues related to the wider Asian region. The EU will have a summit with the ASEAN countries in two weeks. We are deeply connected with our ASEAN partners. We are committed to a peaceful Indo-Pacific and Southeast China Sea. We recall the importance of de-escalating tensions in the region. We need to maintain freedom of navigation and overflight in the region and beyond.

We also discussed Taiwan. The EU is committed to and maintains its One China Policy. I repeated the longstanding position of the EU on Taiwan and the Taiwan strait.

The EU has a strong interest in peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait: 40% of our trade passes through it. It is important to promote stability and prosperity in East Asia. We also discussed the situation in the DPRK and Myanmar.

We also had the occasion to address both bilateral and global economic issues, a key topic of my visit here today in China. European leaders insisted on this point.

China is our top trading partner in goods amounting to almost EUR 2 billion every day and China accounts for over 22% of European imports. China’s growth in recent decades has benefited both China and the EU and has contributed substantially to China’s dramatic economic transformation.

But I also set out the difficulties faced by EU companies and investors. On the European side, market access remains very open, while in China several sectors remain much more closed. We need greater reciprocity, we need a more balanced relationship with no overdependencies, a real level-playing field for our companies. We need to strike the right balance. A shift into ‘self-reliance’ carries dangers not only for China and the EU but also for the world.

We believe in free trade, in cooperation; but we need balance and fairness. So, we need to work more on the issues hampering our broad trade relationship and there are channels for that. We believe that trade and investment must be governed by rules, by a reformed World Trade Organization.

We also discussed global issues — such as climate change, health, and the Sustainable Development Goals. We can only meet the challenges of climate change globally and this cannot be done without China.

On health, we are cooperating on the initiative for a Pandemic Treaty. This is a concrete example of international cooperation.

Finally, China has a key role to play in issues of common interest, especially for developing countries. For example, on debt reduction, food, and energy issues.

We also exchanged views about the COVID situation. The recovery from the COVID pandemic remains a shared priority. I stressed that, in Europe, vaccines have proved especially effective in reducing the number of severe COVID cases and fatalities.

Today I conveyed key messages on geopolitical, economic, and global issues. We need to make sure that communication channels remain open and that they are used effectively.

With China, engaging openly on all aspects of our relationship is the only way forward. We agreed to continue our exchanges in light of the next EU-China Summit in 2023. Thank you.