Politics derailed a historic investment treaty between China and the European Union at the last hurdle on the floor of the European Parliament, despite the support of EU leaders including Germany’s Angela Merkel, often referred to as the de facto leader of the 27-nation bloc. Now, in a significant development, President Xi Jinping has joined Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron by video call in personally trying to rescue the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) from legislative limbo. The meeting is Xi’s first with major world leaders since his landmark speech marking the July 1 centenary of the Chinese Communist Party. It is an attempt to put pragmatism ahead of politics for the mutual benefit of major trading partners totalling nearly 2 billion people. Chinese and EU leaders announced an agreement in principle on the investment deal to great fanfare last December as one that could ultimately make a real difference. It would be a pillar of multilateralism and free trade amid the rising tide of protectionism that would be a platform for post-pandemic growth. But opposition within the EU over alleged human rights issues remains a stumbling block. This is clear from summaries of the talks by both sides. Why getting to the heart of Xinjiang forced labour claims is so hard Merkel and Macron, according to a French account, “expressed their serious concerns about human rights in China and reiterated their demands regarding the fight against forced labour”. The Chinese version, on the other hand, quoted Xi as saying: “The world needs mutual respect and sincere cooperation more than ever, instead of suspicion and zero-sum games.” The talks covered a range of topics such as climate change , protection of biodiversity, the Iranian nuclear deal and Afghanistan as well as pandemic control in Africa. In contrast to the generally positive tone, however, the European Parliament was set to debate a motion on Hong Kong over the closure of the tabloid-style newspaper Apple Daily . The prevailing mood doesn’t hold out much hope the parliament will change its stance. The three leaders are trying to revive discussions on the CAI frozen by European MPs until Beijing lifts sanctions on EU officials, academics and researchers, imposed in retaliation for EU action against Chinese officials. The stalled deal is a missed opportunity for historic progress in Sino-European relations and more independence for Europe from American policy on China. Hopefully the high-profile support from Xi and two of the most influential European leaders can make a difference. China has met European critics halfway on a key issue by agreeing to work towards ratification of United Nations conventions on forced labour. With Merkel soon to step down, a breakthrough economic accord with China would seal her important European legacy.