EU – China Summit : joining forces in challenging times

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The 15th EU-China summit will take place in Brussels on 20 September. The EU will be represented by European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.  The People's Republic of China will be represented by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao.

The Summit comes at an important moment for both Europe and China during a period of slowing global economic growth and an increasingly challenging international environment. Both sides recognise that continuing to strengthen the EU-China strategic partnership is essential to get through these difficult times.

The agenda will address all the main bilateral, global and regional issues. Leaders will exchange views about recent measures they have taken to bolster the performance of their economies. They will take stock of progress made in the bilateral relationship seven months since the last summit in February, particularly in the fields of urbanisation cooperation, people-to-people contacts and reinforced energy cooperation. The summit will see new areas of cooperation and further agreements signed. Syria, Iran and other regional issues will be tackled. Cooperation in the G20 and on climate negotiations will also be addressed.

The Summit will also provide the opportunity for a declaration on an innovation cooperation dialogue. This dialogue will act as an official platform for exchanges in the area of innovation. It should meet annually and its first meeting is to be held before the next EU-China summit in 2013.


EU diplomatic relations with China were established in 1975 and have evolved into a comprehensive partnership resting on a rich web of bilateral dialogues (more than 50). Besides the Leaders’ annual meeting, the main three pillars are the High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue (launched 2007), the Strategic Dialogue (2010) and the High Level People-to-People Dialogue (2012).

China has emerged as the world's third economy, after the EU and the US, the biggest trading power in the global economy (accounting for 12% of world trade in goods), and an increasingly important political power. Rising trade and financial flows between the EU and China in the last decade have considerably heightened their economic interdependence. The EU remains China's biggest trading partner while China is the EU's second largest trading partner.

Strategic partnership

The new dimension acquired by the EU-China relationship and the potential to develop it further led, in 2003, to the launch of a comprehensive EU-China strategic partnership whose overall rational and objectives were captured in the title of the 2006 Communication "EU-China: closer partners, growing responsibilities". This still characterises the main direction of the EU-China relationship towards an ever-stronger and more comprehensive partnership, bilaterally and in international affairs and global issues.

A third pillar of EU-China cooperation on people-to-people issues was launched at the EU-China summit in February 2012.. The first meeting of the High-level People to People Dialogue was held in Brussels in April. It takes the same format as the existing EU-China high level dialogues on economy and trade and on strategic issues.

Trade and investment

Since bilateral ties between the EU and China were established thirty-seven years ago, trade relations have expanded from €4 billion in 1978 to €428 billion in 2011. Today, the EU is the biggest destination for China's exports and the second supplier to China, after Japan. For the EU, China is the second trading partner, after the United States, and is close to the level of trade with the US.

From 2007 to 2011, the average annual growth of EU trade with China was 8.9% while EU trade with the world grew by 4.7% per year. In 2010 alone, total trade between the EU and China rose by €30 billion.

In 2011, the EU imported €292 billion worth of goods from China, up from €282 billion in 2010. This amounts to 17% of EU imports. China thus remains Europe's biggest source of manufactured goods. At the same time, the EU exported goods to the value of €136 billion to China in 2011 (8.8% of EU exports), one fifth more than in 2010. 60% of EU exports to China concern machinery and transport equipment.

Europe is one of the top-five sources of foreign direct investment to China (€17.8 billion in 2011). Chinese investment in Europe has grown rapidly since the 2008 crisis and amounted to €3.1 billion in 2011.

Human rights

The EU-China human rights dialogue was set up in 1995. The EU attaches great importance to human rights in China, and dialogue on this issue is an integral part of the EU-China partnership. The most recent session was held on 29 May 2012. The topics discussed in this session included minority rights; the rule of law; freedom of expression and the treatment of civil society; criminal punishment and deprivation of liberty.

Sustainable development

The EU and China established a partnership on climate change at the 2005 EU-China summit. The focus of the partnership is on clean energy technology. One major objective is the development and demonstration of advanced, “zero emissions” coal technology based on CO2 capture and geological storage.

A partnership on sustainable urbanisation was launched at the summit in February 2012. It aims at strengthening cooperation and dialogue on urban planning, energy supply for cities and energy demand management in cities, developing "green digital cities", urban mobility, water and air quality, waste management, as well as the social inclusion of migrants into cities. As a consequence, the first EU-China Mayors' Forum will take place in the margins of this summit.

The Europe-China clean energy centre EC2 in Beijing (€10m) and the international institute for clean and renewable energy in Wuhan (€15m) are other channels for cooperation in the field of energy and sustainable development (launched in April 2010).

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