On 20th September 2012, the yearly EU-China Summit, which gathers top leaders from the EU and China, took place in Brussels. It may be the last time that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, in his current capacity as Prime Minister, represented the People’s Republic of China, just few weeks ahead of the leadership changes due to happen in the course of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party on 8 November in Beijing.
Despite the fact that human rights were not on the official agenda released few days before the Summit, they were included in the Joint Press Communiqué of the 15th EU-China Summit. Furthermore, the President of the European Commission Mr. Barroso and the President of the EU Council Mr. Van Rompuy released a Press Statement where they mentioned Tibet, which indicates that this issue was directly raised with Prime Minister Wen during the Summit. It says, “The EU attaches great importance to the respect for fundamental freedoms in China as in other parts of the world. We recognize the tremendous progress achieved in China by lifting hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. But there are also concerns, in particular regarding restrictions of freedom of expression and the situation in Tibet.”
At the same time of the Summit, the Tibetan Community and Tibet Support Groups organized a sit-in in Schuman, the heart of European headquarters, and a demonstration around the EU Council Building (the so-called Justus Lipsius) on the occasion of the arrival of the Flame of Truth Campaign in Belgium.
EU summits are normally held in the EU Council building and open to any EU-accredited reporter who can possibly ask questions to both parties’ leaders during the press conference that normally follows the summits. But this time the two sides opted to meet at the Palais d’Egmont, a stately Belgian home, and scrutinize which journalists could come. Under the agreement, China was to hand-pick all the reporters from China, while EU officials would pick the rest in a mini-briefing with just 30-or-so media.
But the press conference arranged after the summit was cancelled because the EU disagreed with Chinese officials who sought to vet journalists. The Brussels-based International Press Association said, “Any agreement to sidestep media freedom such as by the EU agreeing not to invite journalists representing a certain country and allowing the visiting country to have a veto over journalists from their or any other country is not acceptable.”
Likewise, journalists were kept away from Chinese Vice-Premier Li Keqiang in May and from Chinese Politburo member Liu Yandong in April.
Back in 2010, the EU also cancelled a press conference following the 13th EU-China Summit as China tried, and failed, to keep away journalists known to be critical about the Chinese government on the basis of security concerns.
Prior to the cancellation, four reporters from the Epoch Times and New Tang Dynasty Television were reportedly denied to enter the European Council building before eventually being allowed in.
As mentioned by the EU Observer, “The Chinese elite is not alone in avoiding the 965 reporters accredited to the EU. When Uzbek dictator Islam Karimov dropped into Brussels last year he met with the EU commission chief and the head of NATO, but also found no time for media.”