Today, we have discussed about the situation in Afghanistan, China, and how the coronavirus pandemic has been affecting the broader South East Asia.
On Afghanistan, we had a brief discussion and we adopted conclusions on our support to the country.
Our discussion comes right after the recent power-sharing agreement reached between President [of Afghanistan, Ashraf] Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah [Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation]. We hope that this important development will pave the way for the beginning of a peace process between the Afghan Government and the Taliban.
We have been united in our efforts to support the beginning of an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. Such a process should now begin without further delay. But we have to regret that the violence from the Talibans continues, a significant reduction of this level of violence is badly needed. They recently observed a three-day ceasefire over the Eid celebration. But 3 days is not enough. Afghanistan and its people need a permanent ceasefire.
Ahead of the international pledging conference that will be held in November in Geneva, we want to make clear that our future political and financial support will be strongly linked to the commitment of the parties to the conflict to a meaningful peace process and maintaining the achievements of the last years, in particular as regards women and children rights.
Ireland also updated us, the Council [of Ministers of Foreign Affairs], at the beginning of our meeting on its campaign to get a temporary seat at the Security Council. The vote is going to take place on 17 June. I think it is in our collective interest to ensure as much European Union Member States representation as possible on the Security Council. I wish Ireland every success, because a positive result for Ireland would be a positive result for Europe.
But the main issue that we dealt with was our relationship with China. This was the main focus of this Council.
The coronavirus pandemic has accelerated existing trends. In fact, we can say that it has been a wakeup call. The US-China rivalry is becoming a structuring factor of the post-Coronavirus world. This is becoming more assertive, more controversial. We agreed in our meeting on the need to reinforce a policy based on our interests and on our principles.
We can all agree that it is impossible to put our relationship with China into a single box – it is too complex. It does not fit into a single category. Is it an ally or a rival? A partner or a competitor? It is both. It is difficult to imagine that we can solve the world’s climate challenge without a strong partnership between Europe and China. China is still a little bit less than 30% of the world emissions.
On the other hand, it is clear also that [China] is a systemic rival and this dimension of our relationship is there, it is even increasing. It is a competitor, yes. It is a competitor, a partner, an ally, a rival. Everything at the same time. So it is a complex relationship that cannot be reduced to a single dimension.
We have a broad approach and we have to encompass many aspects of our political and economic relations. Developing a unified, balanced relationship with a global power – a big global power - such as China, is something that we have to deal with in the near future.
The performance of China is really impressive. 20 years ago this country was 4% of the global output and now it is approaching 16%. To multiply by four its share in the global output in 20 years is an extraordinary performance that has to have –and it will have - political and geopolitical consequences.
Everybody is aware of what we said on March 2019 - one year ago- in our Communication [Strategic Outlook] on EU-China relations. There, we set out our key parameters, which are still valid. But we have to pursue its implementation, bearing in mind latest developments and trends.
We need, and we are ready, to have an open and honest dialogue with China. This should cover all elements of our relationship, from trade and investment, where we have to continue working towards the establishment of a real and true level playing field, to global challenges. I mentioned climate change, but also conflicts and the pursuit of stability in all corners of the world, and not forgetting key human rights issues. China is a systemic actor and it has to be considered like this from a political and economic point of view.
The most recent developments in Hong Kong are a case in point. Member States – all of them - have expressed a clear common position on this, reflected in a formal statement that has just been issued. In this statement, we expressed our grave concern at the steps taken by China on 28 May. We believe that this risks to seriously undermine the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle and the high degree of autonomy of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong that China agreed with the United Kingdom when the United Kingdom withdrew from Hong Kong.
We also want to stress that our relationship with China is based on mutual respect and trust. I want to underline this: mutual respect and trust. But this decision calls it into question, and I think that we have to raise the issue in our continuing dialogue with China.
I can summarise saying that China is, without doubt, one of the key global players. The European Union has to continue its engagement with China based on our interests and objectives. If successful, this engagement will help shape a more stable and prosperous world, but also a world respectful of fundamental rights and freedoms.
This will continue. Thank you.
Q. Could the events in Hong Kong jeopardize the EU-China Summit in Leipzig? At what level of restrictions of freedom in Hong Kong does the EU consider the need for sanctions? Does the EU join the protests from the United States and the United Kingdom?
Regarding the first question the answer is simple : no. I think the summit of Leipzig is still on the agenda and as far as the circumstances around the pandemic allow it, it will take place.
Only one country referred to the issue of the sanctions. I do not think that sanctions are the way to solve the problems with China.
Q. Issuing statements have so far failed to deter China from imposing national security laws on Hong Kong. What is the European Union’s next step?
We will continue discussing and we will continue to reach out to Beijing. Our reaction has to be commensurate with the steps that have already been taken. We will continue trying to put pressure on the Chinese authorities in order to make them aware that this issue will affect the way we deal with some of the issues of mutual interest. But there is nothing more on the agenda.
Q. Why did the European Union not sign up to the joint United Kingdom-United States-Australia-Canada statement on Hong Kong?
We have our own statements. We do not need to join other people’s statements.
Q: Do you agree that Hong Kong no longer has effective autonomy from China?
The autonomy of Hong Kong has been really weakened by this decision; it jeopardises the autonomy of Hong Kong.
Q: Would the European Union’s position be different if the United Kingdom was still in the Union?
Q. Events in Hong Kong involve a sudden change of law. Are investment deals with China at risk? You talked about a more robust strategy, was there any progress on this today?
This was an informal Council. It was devoted to a debate on general issues. You cannot expect a new strategy already being written after this discussion. This was an informal meeting and it was very interesting to know and to sound out the situation of each and every Member State. We will continue discussing about it, but you cannot expect of an informal Council to deliver something like the Strategic Outlook on China that was produced last March.
But, for sure, there will be a new document of this kind, a new outlook on China taking into account all the recent developments: the pandemic; Hong Kong; the need to level the playing field; the unbalances in our relationship; internal developments in China; their more assertive diplomacy. All these things will be put together, amid a reflection of the European Union, and finally we will produce a document. But it was not the purpose of today’s meeting.
Q: Do events in Hong Kong put at risk investment deals with China?
Q. Have interests become more important than values for the European Union?
Our Union is based both in values and interests. We try to defend our interests and to preserve our values, in this case and in any other case.
Q. You have spoken about a more robust China strategy. Was there a consensus today for such a strategy? What would it entail in more detail?
I cannot go into more details. As I said, it was an informal meeting: a brainstorming, an exchange of views and positions of Member States with respect to many of the issues that compose this complex relationship. I presented a first report, using several slides in order to explain how unbalanced our economic relations are, which are the positions we have in several issues from climate change to investment, to the lack of progress on the negotiations that we are having about the agreement on investments. All these things have been on the table, everything has been discussed, but there are no conclusions yet.
Q. Could you elaborate on the response that the Foreign Ministers might have had on the strategic autonomy regarding the production of medical supplies in the European Union.
This is one of the things that we have been considering. The pandemic has shown that in critical moments, the global economy is not able to fulfil all demands in terms of quantity and in any place. There are weaknesses related with the fact that we have stopped producing at home some critical products especially on the pharmaceutical side. This will call for building strategic stocks.
Why do we have strategic reserves of oil? Why do we stockpile oil? Because once upon a time there was a crisis and the supplies of oil were cut and since then we decided to have a strategic reserve. Well today, we have seen that in a critical moment, some products which were not considered critical became critical because the supplies were cut. Logic will produce the same kind of reaction. We have to have reserves of some products that were not considered critical but at a certain moment can become critical. The supplies can be cut or not be enough. We will have to react in the same way we reacted when we decided to create the strategic reserve of oil.
Q. Has the issue of human rights been raised? In particular, the issue of human rights of Nigerians in China, where some reports have shown that they were mistreated?
This has been mentioned during the discussion, yes. It is one of the things that some Member States put on the table under the discussion about the situation of human rights and some events affecting some citizens of African countries.
Q. Did the Council discuss Libya in the current affairs point? How united are the European Member States on Libya and what did they agree?
It was not on the agenda. I made a reference that in the situation in Libya there is, unhappily, nothing new to be reported to the Council to provoke a discussion about it.
Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-191637