On the 45th anniversary of EU-China relations, the EU Ambassador to China and the Ambassadors of the 27 EU Member States jointly authored an Op-Ed for publication in China Daily and People’s Daily.
The EU Delegation was informed by the media in question that the publication of the Op-Ed would only be allowed by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the condition that a part of a sentence related to the origins and spread of the coronavirus was removed. The EU Delegation to China made known its objections to the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in no uncertain terms.
The decision to proceed with the publication was taken by the EU Delegation due to the fact that, even without this phrase, the Op-Ed passed key messages on a number of our priority areas to a potential audience of more than 1 billion readers. Messages on climate change and sustainability, human rights, the importance of multilateralism, the Coronavirus Global Response Summit, macro-economic assistance and debt relief for highly indebted countries.
The EU Delegation strongly regrets that the Op-Ed was not published in its original, unedited form by the China Daily. We also strongly regret that the Op-Ed has not been published by People’s Daily, contrary to our explicit understanding.
The full and unedited Op-Ed was published in parallel on the EU Delegation’s website and on the website of several EU Member States’ embassies and social media channels. It was also distributed in parallel to other Chinese media outlets, some of which have, in the meantime, published the Op-Ed, in Chinese, in its original, unedited form.
The European Union consistently advocates strongly and at all levels with its Chinese interlocutors the need for a free and open press, respect for human rights, fundamental freedoms, and for a level playing field. The EU Delegation does everything it can to operate effectively and to pass EU messages to the Chinese public.
As the Op-Ed states, while the EU and China have differences, notably on human rights, our partnership has become mature enough to allow frank discussions on these issues. This is what makes this incident even more regrettable.
There are both opportunities and challenges in the EU’s relationship with China. There are issues that we agree on and others that we do not. We are fully cognisant of the fact that China is simultaneously a partner, with whom the EU has closely aligned objectives, a negotiating partner, with whom the EU needs to find a balance of interests, an economic competitor in pursuit of technological leadership, and a systemic rival, promoting alternative models of governance. We will continue to engage with China on all aspects of our broad relationship, striving to make progress while remaining true to the EU’s fundamental values and interests.