European Union leaders told Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday to open up markets, respect minorities and step back from a crackdown in Hong Kong, also asserting that Europe would no longer be taken advantage of in trade.
Anxious to show that the EU will not take sides in a global standoff between China and the United States, German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined the bloc's chief executive and chairman to deliver a tough-talking message to Beijing.
"Europe is a player, not a playing field," European Council President Charles Michel, who chaired the video summit, told reporters in reference to a growing sense in Europe that China has not met its promises to engage in fair and free trade.
With more than a billion euros a day in bilateral trade, the EU is China's top trading partner, while China is second only to the United States as a market for EU goods and services.
China's Xi was not part of the post-summit news conference and there was no joint statement, but the state-owned Xinhua News Agency reported that Xi rejected any interference in Chinese affairs, particularly on human rights.
"Chinese people will not accept 'an instructor' on human rights and oppose 'double standards', Xinhua reported Xi as saying during the video summit. "China is willing to strengthen exchanges with the European side based on the principle of mutual respect so that the two sides can both make progress."
The European Union accuses China of breaking a host of global trade rules, from overproduction of steel to stealing Western intellectual property, which Beijing denies.
European attitudes have also hardened towards Beijing because of the novel coronavirus, which many scientists believe originated in China, and because of a new security law on Hong Kong that the West says curtails basic rights.
"Overall, cooperation with China must be based on certain principles - reciprocity, fair competition. We are different social systems, but while we are committed to multilateralism, it must be rules-based," Merkel said.
The EU also wants stronger commitments on climate change from China, world's top polluter.
China yesterday invited EU observers to visit Xinjiang to "truly understand" the situation. Rights groups say over a million Uighurs languish in political reeducation camps, while a campaign of forced assimilation has targeted academics, religious leaders and activists from mostly Muslim minority groups. Beijing describes its Xinjiang camps as vocational training centres where education is given to lift the population out of poverty and to chisel away at Islamic radicalism.
On Monday US customs said it would bar a raft of Chinese products including cotton, garments and hair products, from Xinjiang over fears they were made using forced labour.