European and Asian leaders to boost ties, trade, security

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, speaks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Thursday, Oct. 18, 2018. EU leaders meet for a second day on Thursday to discuss migration, cybersecurity and to try and move ahead on stalled Brexit talks. (Stephanie Lecocq, Pool Photo via AP)

BRUSSELS — After failing to reach a breakthrough on Britain's divorce terms from the European Union, EU leaders are rolling straight into another summit Thursday, this one aimed at forging closer links with Asia.

The Asia-Europe meeting that starts Thursday night with a dinner attended by Belgian King Philippe will bring together 30 European leaders with their counterparts from 21 Asian nations, a membership that accounts for 55 percent of global trade.

The meeting with the slogan, "Global Partners for Global Challenges" is happening amid a trade war between the United States and China and ongoing trade tensions between the EU and Washington.

The EU says the leaders will discuss — among many other issues — "rules-based order and the value of constructive multilateral cooperation."

The informal meeting, which is held every two years, also will discuss peace moves on the Korean Peninsula, migration, cybersecurity, fighting extremism and combating climate change.

It starts a day after U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross criticized the EU for moving too slowly in trade talks and warned that President Donald Trump's patience with the Europeans might soon run out.

China knows how that feels. Trump has imposed punitive tariffs on about $250 billion of Chinese products amid U.S. accusations that China engages in cyber-theft and coerces foreign companies into handing over technology in return for access to the Chinese market. Trump is also angry over China's trade surplus with the U.S.

The EU has similar concerns about creating a level playing field for European companies doing business in China, said Frans-Paul van der Putten of the Clingendael think tank in The Hague.

On a visit to the Netherlands this week, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang reasserted pledges to open up his country to foreign investment.

"We will remove foreign equity restrictions to Dutch companies as well," Li said.

Van der Putten said Li will likely bring that message to Brussels, too.

"I imagine at the EU level the Chinese government will have a similar message," he said.

At the end of the meeting on Friday afternoon, EU leaders will hold talks with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and sign a free trade deal with Singapore.

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