British Prime Minister Tony Blair met Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) yesterday at the start of a China-European Union summit focused on boosting trade and tackling global warming. Contentious talks on a dispute over Chinese-made garments piling up at European borders lent a sour note to the annual gathering.
Hu welcomed Blair, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, at the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing. A Blair spokesman said their hourlong talks would focus on issues including fighting climate change -- a Blair priority -- and overhauling the UN.
The leaders also were to discuss regional issues, possibly including North Korea's nuclear program, said the spokesman, who declined to be identified in line with government policy. Blair arrived in Beijing early yesterday at the start of a whirlwind four-day trip to China and India aimed at increasing European trade with the two Asian economic powerhouses.
"We're delighted to be here," Blair said. "The strategic partnership between China and the European Union is of immense importance, not just in terms of trade and the economy but also in terms of our cooperation on the major political issues the world faces."
Also present at the meeting were European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星).
"The regular meetings between the leaders of China and the European Union are good for enhancing our mutual understanding," Hu said. "They are also good for enhancing our mutually beneficial cooperation."
The Beijing talks could be marred by a spat that has held up some 75 million Chinese-made garments at European ports. Those shipments were blocked after Chinese imports reached an annual limit for 2005 set by the two sides in June amid complaints by European producers about a surge in Chinese sales.
Mandelson has urged European governments to release the merchandise. But in trade talks at the Beijing Hotel, there was no sign of a resolution or any agreement on curbing China's shipments of low-cost sweaters, pants and other clothing.
Blair was optimistic the dispute would be resolved.
"I think there's a good chance that it can be," he said. "When you get a big disagreement [like this], it's symbolic as well of a disagreement of a bigger and broader nature, which is the economic power of China -- how do we deal with it? How do we handle it? Are we going to be able to survive the strength of the Chinese competition?"
"Free trade is right," but must be introduced gradually, Blair said. "In the meantime, however, it's not unreasonable if some of those who are producers are saying `We've also got our own interests that have got to be taken care of in this moment of transition.'"
Western consumers benefit from Chinese imports because they're often cheaper than goods made in Europe.
The summit is also focusing on the environment. Blair said he hoped China would agree to participate in a dialogue on global warming.
He pushed for action on climate change at the G-8 summit of wealthy nations in July, and the group said it would seek to engage China, India and other developing economies in talks on slowing emissions of the pollutants blamed for rising temperatures.
Booming economies like China and India need huge amounts of power to fuel their quick growth, and Blair said the EU would work with Beijing to build a clean coal power plant and develop other low-emissions energy technologies.