China ‘resisting calling off’ EU summit in March as coronavirus threatens delay

27-Feb-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

China is scrambling to hold its annual leadership summit with the European Union as scheduled, a source has said, as the coronavirus continues to disrupt its diplomatic and political agenda.

The battle to contain the outbreak led to the postponement of vice-Premier Liu He’s expected trip to Brussels last week for high-level economic dialogue with the EU, and is a threat to the annual EU-China summit, due to take place in Beijing on March 31.

The economic meeting was already postponed from September when Beijing was prioritising trade talks with the United States. It was to be the first in a series of discussions between the EU and China also covering climate change, geopolitics and human rights in the run-up to the annual summit.

Instead, Liu stayed in Beijing and attended two conferences, on Friday and Sunday, as the country tries to resume economic activity while still combating the virus.

A European diplomatic source said that discussions about postponing the summit were under way, but that China was trying hard to hold it as planned and would try to allocate the resources needed to organise it.

It is most likely that the summit will not take place on March 31 but China “never wants to be the one” to announce it is cancelling, the source said.

Several planned meetings between the two sides during the first quarter of the year have been postponed, the source said. The EU embassy in China did not comment on the scheduling of the summit in an emailed response to the South China Morning Post, but said that both sides had agreed to postpone “a number of face-to-face meetings in the present circumstances”.

Coronavirus is China’s fastest-spreading public health crisis, Xi Jinping says

“Meanwhile, some videoconferencing has taken place at different levels between Brussels and Beijing, and contact also continues through diplomatic channels,” the embassy said. “We remain committed to the bilateral agenda, while sharing the imperative to address the public health emergency.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel had been due to attend the summit along with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, and meet Chinese President Xi Jinping.

EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan said last Wednesday that the meetings would probably not happen at that time.

With Brussels insisting that the EU-China summit be held before a meeting between China and a group of 17 Central and Eastern European countries, known as the “17+1″ summit, a delay to the first would also push back the second, which was due to be held in mid-April.

This year, Xi will take over from Li as the host of the 17+1 summit, indicating the increasing significance Beijing gives to its links with Europe while its rivalry with the United States continues to grow.

What does postponing the National People’s Congress mean?

China has also delayed from early March the most important event of its domestic political calendar, the annual gathering of its legislature, the National People’s Congress, and top political advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference known informally as “two sessions”.

The coronavirus had infected more than 77,000 people in mainland China as of Monday, with the death toll rising to 2,663. The challenges posed by the outbreak across Asia and Europe have grown, with Italy reporting more than 220 infections and seven deaths.

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Category: China

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