EU organisers cancel trade forum with China after latter demanded to bar its critics

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The President of the European Council, Charles Michel, and the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, at the virtual summit between the EU and China on June 22, 2020. (Photo courtesy: REUTERS)

(TibetanReview.net, Dec11’20) – An annual China-Europe trade forum was quietly canceled last month after European organizers rejected Chinese demands to ban participants critical of Beijing, reported the wsj.com Dec 10.

The report said the move, not previously reported, highlighted an increasingly difficult balance Europe was trying to strike between safeguarding business interests and upholding democratic values in the face of China’s increasingly aggressive global stance.

It noted that the US and Australia have taken more forceful stands against pressure from China, sparking public fights and trade battles.

The report said the annual China-EU CEO and Former Senior Officials Dialogue—a closed-door event that includes around 40 chief executives, top officials and academics from Europe and China—would have been its fourth edition and taken place this year by videoconference.

The participants in the scheduled conference would have included around 40 chief executives, top officials and academics from Europe and China.

But after China insisted that the organisers drop speakers who were critical of China, the European organizers at BusinessEurope, an umbrella organization for the European Union’s national business lobbies, decided to cancel the event instead, the report noted.

It added that the reluctance on both sides to escalate this conflict led to organisers stating that another dialogue should take place again next year.

“We held three very successful editions of this dialogue that takes place every year, alternating in Brussels and Beijing,” BusinessEurope spokesman Peter Sennekamp was quoted as saying, adding that ‘regrettably’ this year’s dialogue had to be cancelled.

Experts were reported to believe that the cancellation of the event also gave a fresh sign of Europe’s hardening stance toward Beijing, a shift that became evident last year when the bloc described China as a systemic rival. The EU officials had openly taken an anti-China stand and had blamed China for disinformation during the coronavirus pandemic, the report noted.

Not willing to take the blame for the meeting’s cancellation, the China Center for International Economic Exchange, which seeks to promote international economic research and exchanges under the guidance and supervision of an economic planning agency, has claimed that dialogues with other countries had been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the targets of China’s objection was said to be to the scheduled speaker Reinhard Bütikofer, the European Parliament’s chairman of the EU-China caucus, who had publicly criticized Beijing over Hong Kong and its treatment of the Uighur minority. Another was stated to be Mikko Huotari, the head of Merics, a German think tank critical of the Chinese Communist Party.

The report noted that while China had attempted to ban German politicians, academics and journalists from past events, this was the first time they had targeted a senior European parliamentarian in charge of EU-China relations.

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