European Commission and Council presidents to meet Xi Jinping in first in-person EU-China summit in four years

Both sides have played down expectations ahead of meeting in Beijing

Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel will meet Xi Jinping in Beijing on Thursday for the first in-person EU-China summit in four years. But both sides have played down expectations ahead of the meeting, reflecting tensions over trade, the war in Ukraine and Europe’s plan to “de-risk” its economy from China.

Senior EU officials said they do not expect a joint statement at the end of the talks, during which the European Commission and Council presidents will be joined by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. They will stay in China for just one day, meeting Mr Xi in the morning and premier Li Qiang in the afternoon.

“I think we need to be ever so slightly realistic that there’s not a kind of single outstanding deliverable which will be crowning the summit,” a senior EU official said.

Ms von der Leyen and Mr Michel are expected to press Mr Xi to take steps to diminish the trade imbalance that sees the EU imports from China dwarf its exports to the country. The EU has long complained that Beijing places obstacles in the way of European companies entering the Chinese market, and called for a more level playing field on trade.


China’s foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Wednesday dismissed the EU’s complaints, suggesting it was hampering its own companies by banning the export of some high-tech products to China.

“If the EU sets strict restrictions on the export of high-tech products to China on the one hand, and on the other hopes to greatly increase exports to China, this may not be a reasonable expectation,” he said. “When it comes to tackling the prominent problems faced by Europe and effectively addressing global challenges, China is a reliable and indispensable partner for the EU. Properly settling differences through dialogue and consultation is an important lesson we’ve learned from how the China-EU relations have grown.”

The EU has sought to portray its de-risking policy as a response to recent crises that revealed vulnerabilities in its economy, insisting that it is not targeted at China specifically. And its leaders have stressed the distinction between “decoupling”, or separating its economy from China’s, and de-risking its supply chains for raw materials and essential goods and technology.

Beijing is sceptical, viewing “de-risking” as a deliberately ambiguous term that offers the EU wide scope for imposing restrictions on China in the name of security. China has sought more clarity and transparency on “de-risking”, and wants agreed limits on its scope and application.

The EU leaders will also raise the issue of Ukraine, urging Mr Xi to use his influence over Vladimir Putin to persuade the Russian leader to end the war. “We need to make sure that China is not helping Russia. That’s a message we’ll pass. We need also China to engage with Ukrainians on peace formula of President [Volodymyr] Zelenskiy,” a senior EU official said.

The EU acknowledges that there is no evidence that Beijing has offered any military aid to Moscow. But the leaders are expected to urge Mr Xi to stop some Chinese companies from circumventing the unilateral sanctions Brussels has imposed on Russia since the invasion.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times