Tensions escalate between Beijing and the West over Hong Kong and the treatment of minority Uighurs.
European Union (EU) leaders to hold discussions with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday in a bid to make progress on trade and investment.
The virtual meeting between top Chinese officials and EU Council President Charles Michel, European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, replaces a full summit with all 27 European leaders which had to be cancelled because of coronavirus.
China has said an investment deal already seven years in the making can be agreed by the end of the year, but EU officials warn significant obstacles to remain and insist they will not agree to unfavourable terms simply to cut a deal.
“Even if there is a political objective to accelerate negotiations and conclude them by the end of the year, we will have this only if it is something worth having,” an EU official said.
Brussels says “significant progress” has been made in talks since a similar video summit in June, and officials hope to agree a “roadmap” to get a deal done by the end of the year, but they also warn Beijing needs to do more to improve market access for European companies.
Brussels wants to reinforce respect for intellectual property, end obligations to transfer technology, and see a reduction in subsidies for Chinese public enterprises.
Brussels has preferred to forge a middle path, treating Beijing as both a potential partner and a “systemic rival”.
“The EU stands firm on its interests and values but also wants to cooperate with China,” a senior EU official said.
EU need to press Xi on Hong Kong, where Beijing has imposed a controversial new security law a move denounced by the West as a major assault on the city’s freedoms.