Wen Jiabao–One last huzzah

It’s a big year for China, with a changing of the guard set for later this year, and the man thought to be critical for fostering Chinese-EU relations is in the midst of attending his last EU summit.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is expected to focus heavily on the economy in Brussels this week. The BBC has more on what China can, or can’t do for the financially war-torn eurozone:

“There have been trade disputes between the partners – such as a recent EU decision to investigate allegations that Chinese manufacturers are dumping solar panels by selling them at below market value.

But EU officials believe these disputes must be seen in the context of a broad and growing economic relationship, says the BBC’s Chris Morris in Brussels.

The Chinese government has also repeatedly expressed concern about Europe’s faltering economy, which continues to struggle through a eurozone debt crisis.

There had been hopes that China would invest some $3 trillion (2.3 trillion euros; £1.85 trillion) of its foreign exchange reserves in European bailout funds – although pressure has now been eased by a European Central Bank decision to buy up government bonds.”

Wen will meet with senior officials, including European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

However. It wasn’t all sugar and spice when he arrived. The Straits Times reports that Wen used some rather forceful diplomatic language, airing grievances over a long-standing arms embargo and ripping on the bloc for failing to treat China like a fully-fledged market economy:

“[Wen], in opening remarks, gave a lengthy list of achievements over the past 10 years, stressing: ‘We do not have major conflicts of interest.’

But there was a sting in the tail when he used forceful diplomatic language to raise the issue of an EU arms embargo, imposed since the 1989 Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, and the EU’s refusal to … lift all tariffs on Chinese goods.

‘I have to be very frank in saying this … but the solution has been elusive over the past 10 years. I deeply regret this and I hope the EU side will take greater initiative to solve these issues’ he added.

EU sources had said on Wednesday ahead of the summit, that ‘we have agreed to disagree’ with the Chinese on the arms embargo.

The issue continues to divide EU member states and Britain notably has refused to bend to pressure from France and Spain to review the embargo.”

And things could get hairier, as the New York Times reports the old chestnut that is Syria will also likely be a tender subject at this summit. China has so far refused to consider military intervention in the war-torn country, arguing that the Powers That Be should instead wait until the fighting’s over before lending a hand. There were also, as usual, issues over press freedom. The NYT has more:

“China, along with Russia, has vetoed proposed U.N. Security Council resolutions intended to put pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to end a crackdown on the Syrian opposition. The Europeans ‘will emphasize the inability of the international community to mobilize’ in the case of Syria, an E.U. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity before the meeting.

The customary closing news conference was shelved after journalists expressed concerns that the Chinese authorities planned exclusions.

Ann Cahill, the president of the International Press Association, said the group had rejected a suggestion from the European Council to allow access by 50 journalists, photographers and camera crews. Ms. Cahill said the E.U. authorities would have selected 25 non-Chinese journalists and the Chinese authorities would have selected 25 Chinese journalists, including some from the E.U. press corps, and questions would be limited to just two from each side.”

What do you think? Summit success, or same old situation?

Read more on China, France, America and the world beyond in the latest edition of Carnet Atlantique! And keep your eyes on this space–our October issue goes live soon! With everything you want to know on life in France, Chinese expats, presidential elections and more!

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