The European Commission’s biggest-ever delegation to China heads for Beijing, hoping to progress from words to action on China’s soaring greenhouse gas emissions and its tense trade ties with Europe.
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will have to tread a careful line because he also intends to raise the handling of pro-independence unrest in Tibet and human rights in general in China in the meetings with the country’s leadership. “We want to get into more concrete action with China,” a European Union official said ahead of the visit by Barroso and nine commissioners which Brussels hopes will prove the start of a new, more fruitful phase in EU-China ties.
“For instance, how to reconcile protection of the environment with the amazing growth they have seen in their economy,” the official said speaking on condition of anonymity.
China has shot to the top of the EU’s priorities after the country’s sudden emergence as a global economic power.
EU leaders fret that their ambitious targets for cutting greenhouse gases could prove meaningless if big economies such as China continue to refuse to sign up to similar controls.
Some studies say China has already overtaken the United States as the world’s number one carbon dioxide emitter.
The EU wants a more flexible position from China at a United Nations climate change conference next year in Denmark.
European officials this week will discuss ways to transfer technology in areas such as cleaner power generation and producing biofuels, an area where Chinese research is booming.
China’s rise as an manufacturing power has also hurt swaths of Europe’s industry with low-cost competition.
EU companies complain that they are held back in China’s booming economy by trade and investment barriers that cost them an estimated 20 billion euros ($31.7 billion) a year.
Europe’s biggest business lobby urged Barroso to make real progress this week on issues such as widespread counterfeiting, China’s “almost unlimited” state subsidies and its currency which is widely seen as undervalued to help exports.
BusinessEurope also said in a letter to Barroso that the EU should not be tempted to grant China the EU’s Market Economy Status—something that would help it fight growing allegations of dumping in the bloc—as a bargaining chip for other issues. EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson will head an EU team in Beijing at the launch of a new High Level Economic and Trade Mechanism which he hopes will serve as a more effective platform for reducing friction between the two economic superpowers.
Mandelson has rejected calls from some European lawmakers and rights groups for a possible boycott by European leaders of the opening of the Beijing Olympic Games, saying Europe needs to engage with China rather than isolate it.
Chinese protesters took to the streets of several cities recently, calling for a boycott of French supermarket chain Carrefour , in response to rowdy protests in Paris and elsewhere in Europe against the Olympic torch-carrying relay.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy moved to defuse tension by expressing sympathy to a wheelchair-bound Chinese torchbearer who shielded the flame from protesters in Paris.
Other areas of concern for Europe include China’s growing influence over Africa’s natural resources and product safety. (Reuters)