A flag of China hoisted

EU leaders engaged in a constructive in-person summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Thursday, marking their first face-to-face meeting in four years. The discussions covered a spectrum of topics, including trade imbalances, the situation in Ukraine, and broader global stability. While the agenda featured robust rhetoric, concrete outcomes were relatively light.

Xi encouraged the EU to collaborate with China in fostering global stability, strengthening mutual political trust, and eliminating interference in their bilateral relationship, as reported by state broadcaster CCTV. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, European Council President Charles Michel, and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also had a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Qiang during their one-day visit. This gathering represents their final opportunity for direct discussions with top Chinese officials before the upcoming European Parliament elections trigger leadership changes in the bloc.

Both sides downplayed expectations ahead of the summit. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi cautioned EU diplomats in Beijing to prioritize “peace and stability” over the prospect of a “new Cold War.” A European official in Brussels noted that there wouldn’t be a single outstanding deliverable or a joint statement concluding the summit.

In a noteworthy development, Italy officially communicated its departure from the Belt and Road Initiative championed by President Xi, signaling a setback in EU-China relations. Despite several visits by EU Commissioners to Beijing, including the trade and climate chiefs, there has been limited progress on key issues in the relationship. The EU is keen for China to exert its influence on Russia to halt the war, and one of the main focuses of the trip was urging President Xi to prevent Chinese private companies from exporting European-made dual-use items to Russia for military purposes.

Addressing concerns about “imbalanced” economic relations, the EU expressed unease over its nearly 400 billion euro ($431.7 billion) trade deficit with China, attributing it to restrictions on EU businesses. China, on the other hand, has resisted an EU anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese electric vehicles and the EU’s “de-risking” policy to reduce reliance on Chinese imports, especially of critical raw materials.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang emphasized to French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna that the most significant risk lies in the “uncertainty brought by broad politicization,” highlighting the need to reduce protectionism. During Colonna’s visit, China extended a gesture of goodwill by offering visa-free entry to citizens of the EU’s five largest economies, aiming to boost post-pandemic tourism and enhance China’s image in the West following tensions during the Covid pandemic.

EU officials expressed optimism about potential collaboration with China on climate change initiatives and biodiversity promotion, identifying areas where the two sides could work together for mutual benefit.

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