The EU positioned itself well with the incoming Chinese leadership but Germany was seen as the go-to partner and business deals were brokered directly with member states.
After last year’s EU–China summit was postponed because of the euro crisis, two summits took place in 2012. However, both summits were overshadowed by the bilateral meetings between Germany and China that immediately preceded them. Following a regional summit led by Poland in April and attended by Premier Wen Jiabao, the Chinese foreign ministry also established a Central and Eastern European secretariat under Vice Foreign Minister Song Tao to promote Chinese business interests in the region. The 16+1 summit is likely to become an annual event.
Chinese premier-in-waiting Li Keqiang met EU leaders in May. His main priority is continued reform and sustainable urbanisation, which the EU identified as a new area of cooperation in 2012. High Representative Catherine Ashton continued her top-level foreign-policy dialogue, which includes the Chinese defence establishment, but talks on Syria and Iran produced few results. In July, she and State Councillor Dai Bingguo issued a joint communiqué that proclaimed the EU’s “respect for Chinese territorial integrity and sovereignty”. But it omitted the urgent need for peaceful resolution according to international law of maritime disputes in East Asia such as that between China and Japan over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, which intensified in 2012.
China kept the pivotal high-level economic dialogue on ice in 2012 and thus avoided engagement with the European Commission’s trade negotiators’ new approach to public procurement, investment, and reciprocal concessions. Instead, China dealt directly with member states, where investment deals were brokered, and maintained a symbolic engagement policy at the European level. Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the UK produced a non-paper on the need for greater coordination of EU–China policy. But although the European Council discussed the EU’s “strategic partnerships” in October, little strategic action ensued. Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt took a small but innovative step by including a high-ranking EEAS official in her delegation when President Hu Jintao visited during the Danish EU presidency.
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