European Council President Charles Michel is expected to focus on human rights and trade issues during a phone call Friday with Chinese leader Xi Jinping amid strained relations between Brussels and Beijing, according to an EU official.
EU-China relations have deteriorated over the past year over Beijing’s treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority in the Xinjiang region, as well as a showdown with Lithuania over Taiwan. Some EU countries, including Lithuania, have called for a tougher approach to China as a result.
On Sunday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell arrived promised to deal with Beijing “from a position of unity and strength.”
An EU diplomat said Michel would urge Xi to reconsider the sanctions imposed on Beijing by Beijing politicians after the bloc itself imposed sanctions on Chinese officials linked to forced labor in Xinjiang. China’s retaliation actually froze work on finalizing Brussels’ investment deal with Beijing agreed late last year. Another diplomat said the call shows the EU’s need to formulate its own China policy “based on strategic autonomy.” Michel’s spokesman declined to comment.
Reinhard Bütikofer, the leading MEP on China’s affairs and one of those on Beijing’s sanctions list, called the planned call a “positive” development. “I read it as a signal that #Beijing is beginning to understand an important lesson: they can not make real progress by simply talking to the leaders of individual member states,” Bütikofer tweeted.
The call also comes in between reports that Xi will not personally attend an upcoming G20 summit in Rome later this month, which could make it more difficult to reach an agreement on climate commitments.