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China’s ambassador to the EU Zhang Ming says he hopes the bloc will meet Beijing halfway on an investment deal. Photo: Handout

China asks EU to remain flexible on negotiations for joint investment deal

  • Beijing is ‘very serious about this agreement and has put a lot of effort into the negotiations’, Chinese ambassador to EU Zhang Ming says
  • As EU foreign ministers stop short of imposing sanctions on China over Hong Kong, Zhang says two sides are ‘always in communication’ on key issues
Beijing has appealed to the European Union to remain flexible and pragmatic with regards to the negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on investment, while playing down the two sides’ disagreements over Hong Kong.

“China is very serious about this agreement and has put a lot of effort into the negotiations,” China’s ambassador to the EU Zhang Ming said in an interview on Friday. “We hope our EU partners will meet us halfway.”

His comments came as European foreign ministers joined the United States in criticising Beijing’s passing of a national security law for Hong Kong.

While the politicians expressed their “ grave concern” at the move, they stopped short of imposing sanctions against China or cancelling a planned summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and EU heads of state scheduled for September in the German city of Leipzig.

“It takes two to dance,” Zhang said. “We hope the EU will adopt a flexible and pragmatic attitude.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to meet EU heads of state in Leipzig in September. Photo: AP
China and the EU have made slow progress on the investment deal, which has been under discussion since 2013. But at last year’s EU-China summit in Brussels, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and then European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker pledged to complete the deal before the end of 2020.

Zhang said that since the end of last year, the two sides had held monthly negotiations in an “all-out effort” to meet that deadline.

“We did not stop even for the pandemic, and had meetings by videoconference,” he said, adding that two further rounds of talks had already been scheduled.

Officials from the two sides made “great progress” during the latest, four-day, round of talks that ended on Friday, Zhang said, but when asked if a deal might be struck at Leipzig, he said he was “not sure”.

Beijing’s decision to promulgate a national security law for Hong Kong sparked outrage in the US, with President Donald Trump saying on Friday that his government would begin eliminating the city’s special policy exemptions as it was no longer autonomous from mainland China.
Following a videoconference between EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell and the foreign ministers of the bloc’s 27 member states, the EU said in a statement that the decision by China’s National People’s Congress to introduce the legislation in Hong Kong had “seriously undermined” the city’s autonomy.

The move did not conform to either Hong Kong’s Basic Law or the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which was signed in 1984 between the British and Chinese governments and set out the terms for the city’s return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.

Zhang responded to the EU statement by saying the legal basis for its move was the Chinese constitution, not the joint declaration.


“It makes no sense to say that China has gone against its international obligations,” he said. “When it comes to the Hong Kong question, this issue is not at all complicated. We are always in communication with each other on Hong Kong questions.”

China’s leaders ‘arrogant and aggressive’ over Hong Kong security law

Despite the criticism from EU foreign ministers, Borrell said that the Leipzig summit would not be cancelled.


“Over the past few days, I have been in communication with my European colleagues regarding Hong Kong,” he said.

“If we can’t solve this in one day, and get rid of our disagreements, we still have tomorrow, and the day after that. First we just have to control it, to protect our greater interests.”

Sanctions were not the solution to the problem, he said.


Earlier in the week, Annalena Baerbock, the joint leader of Germany’s Green party, called for the Leipzig meeting to be scrapped if Beijing did not withdraw the Hong Kong national security law, though German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for more open dialogue following the move.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Beijing asks EU to be flexible on joint investment pact