Christmas: O’Connor discusses China supply chain issues
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European Council President Charles Michel and Chinese leader Xi Jinping will hold a meeting over the phone on Friday. This marks the first step in thawing relations between the two sides, after months of deteriorating diplomacy between China and much of the West.
The phone call comes after a meeting of the EU’s 27 leaders last week, during which they discussed a need to “rebalance” ties with China.
But this won’t be a straightforward task, with some within the 27 reluctant to offer an olive branch to China.
The call between Mr Michel and Mr Xi will be the first time they’ve spoken since the end of 2020.
Since then, China and the bloc have endured their rockiest patch in decades, with relations deteriorating rapidly.
Issues have centred around Beijing’s treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang region as well as a showdown with Lithuania over Taiwan.
Some EU countries including Lithuania have been calling for a tougher approach to China as a result.
On Sunday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell vowed to deal with Beijing “from a position of unity and strength.”
The leaders are expected to focus on human rights and trade issues during the call.
An EU diplomat told Politico that Mr Michel will urge Mr Xi to reconsider sanctions imposed on EU politicians in retaliation to sanctions on Chinese officials linked to forced labour in Xinjiang.
China’s retaliation effectively froze work to finalize Brussels’ investment deal with Beijing agreed late last year.
Another diplomat said the call shows the EU’s need to formulate its own China policies “from the point of strategic autonomy.”
Reinhard Bütikofer, the leading MEP on China affairs and one of those on Beijing’s sanctions list, called the planned call a “positive” development.
He tweeted: “I read it as a signal that #Beijing begins to understand an important lesson: they can’t make real progress by just talking to individual member states’ leaders.”
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What are EU-China tensions all about?
A number of Western nations – including some within the EU – have accused China of committing crimes against humanity including genocide against the Uyghur population and other mostly-Muslim ethnic groups in the north-western region of Xinjiang.
Human rights groups believe China has detained more than one million Uyghurs against their will over the past few years in a large network of what the state calls “re-education camps”, and sentenced hundreds of thousands to prison terms.
There is also evidence that Uyghurs are being used as forced labour and of women being forcibly sterilised.
Some former camp detainees have also alleged they were tortured and sexually abused.
China denies all allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang, claiming its system of “re-education” camps are there to combat separatism and Islamist militancy in the region.
China insists that Uyghur militants are waging a violent campaign for an independent state by plotting bombings, sabotage and civic unrest, but it is accused of exaggerating the threat in order to justify repression of the Uyghurs.
China has dismissed claims it is trying to reduce the Uyghur population through mass sterilisations as “baseless”, and says allegations of forced labour are “completely fabricated”.
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