BEIJING • China and the European Union are more partners than competitors, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said yesterday, as the two sides held their first formal talks since ties soured over accusations that Beijing had spread disinformation about the coronavirus.
European Commission (EC) president Ursula von der Leyen and European Council president Charles Michel – the EU’s chief executive and chairman – held a video conference with Mr Li, to be followed by another with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Mr Li expressed optimism, according to Chinese state media.
The EU, which has called Beijing a systemic rival, has been negotiating an investment agreement with China since 2014, with both sides expressing a desire last year to conclude their talks this year.
EU officials say they want to see movement in areas such as autos, biotech and micro-electronics, and clear up issues such as state subsidies and forced technology transfers. Brussels says EU markets are largely open, so it is for China to move most.
“What is needed to break the deadlock is engagement at high political level, and that is what today’s summit will hopefully provide,” an EC official said.
Summits typically produce joint statements, but none is expected from yesterday’s meeting.
Mr Li said China was willing to deepen cooperation with the EU on developing a Covid-19 vaccine and treatment.
EU officials say China has sought to pressure European countries that criticise its handling of the pandemic, using social media to spread fake reports of the bloc’s neglect of Covid-19 patients. Beijing has denied wrongdoing.
Even before the pandemic, the two trading partners had differences, including over Hong Kong and the investment pact.
The EU has also faced pressure from the United States to take a tougher stance on China.
Germany has postponed an EU leaders’ summit with Mr Xi in September, citing the coronavirus, though diplomats said it was in part because of the impasse in investment negotiations.