EU and China to hold summit on June 2, focus on climate

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union and China will hold a summit in Brussels on June 2, four EU officials said, the first since the election of U.S. President Donald Trump that has united the two economic powers against global warming and trade protectionism.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang shakes hands with the European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini before their meeting at the Zhongnanhai leadership compound in Beijing, China, in this file photo dated April 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kenzaburo Fukuhara/Pool

China’s premier and the heads of the European Union’s main institutions will aim to deliver a strong statement in support of the Paris climate deal that Trump has threatened to withdraw from, the officials said.

China asked that the annual the summit, normally held in mid-July, be brought forward to press home President Xi Jinping’s defense of open trade at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, in response to Trump’s protective stance.

While the date has not formally been announced, EU officials said it had been agreed with Beijing. The EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang in mid-April and said afterwards that she had discussed the summit.

“The EU and China will send a very, very clear message that we will stick to the Paris climate agreement regardless of what the United States does,” said one EU official. “Climate is a big part of the summit ... It is very high on the agenda.”

The expected final summit statement will likely add to the pressure on Trump that other Group of Seven leaders will seek to apply at a summit in Italy on May 26-27, the officials said.

Trump, who openly doubts climate change is man-made and made a campaign pledge to “cancel” the 2015 Paris Agreement, has postponed a decision on whether to stick to or abandon the global accord.

He is expected to make a decision on that after returning from the Group of Seven summit, according to the White House.

China is looking to the European Union to fill what it sees as a leadership vacuum on a host of issues in the face of a more protectionist and inward-looking Washington.

China has also said it wants to see a strong, united Europe and has looked on with concern at the fallout of Britain’s decision to leave the EU, nervous about losing London’s support for free trade within the bloc and the economic damage that Brexit could cause to the EU, China’s largest trading partner.

The European Union remains wary of its second-largest trading partner, concerned by China’s massive steel exports, its militarization of islands in the South China Sea and a turn toward greater authoritarianism under China’s President Xi.

“Without the United States, it is harder to stand up for human rights, but we will bring it up with China,” a second EU official said, referring to freedom of expression, assembly and religion, as well as a crackdown on foreign non-governmental organizations in China.

But it does broadly agree with China on trade, despite a long-running spat with Beijing on what Europe sees as China’s dumping of low-cost goods on European markets.

While Trump has pulled out of a multilateral trade agreement with Asia-Pacific nations and vowed to renegotiate the U.S. free-trade deal with Canada and Mexico, the EU as the world’s biggest trading bloc welcome’s China’s commitment to trade.

Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Hugh Lawson