Chinese President Xi Jinping's visit to Italy, Monaco and France came four months after a trip to Spain and Portugal. The 21st EU-China summit will take place on Tuesday, only nine months after the previous one. It would seem that China is placing much attention on Europe. Yet, there has rarely been as much frustration on the part of the EU regarding the state of relations with China, and this frustration comes through quite clearly in the Joint Communication that the European Commission and the European External Action Service, EU-China - A strategic outlook, addressed to the member states prior to their next council meeting, which will have relations with China on its agenda: no longer a developing economy, a systemic rival, and a strategic competitor over economic issues; China is being asked (if the EU Council agrees) to "deliver" on previous commitments.
Meanwhile, after Portugal, Italy signed an agreement on the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, joining an earlier batch of Eastern European countries (including Bulgaria and Poland) that had also signed on prior to 2015. Collectively, the European member states present at last year's Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation held in Beijing had declined to sign a joint text with China, citing concern about the norms and standards of the project. French President Emmanuel Macron, who had endorsed the goals of the BRI in his speech in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province in January 2018, had nonetheless raised the issue of defining good rules in common.
There is a contradiction in China's separate efforts toward EU member states (and perhaps even more, the five pre-accession candidate states in the Balkans) and its extremely slow pace in reaching agreements with Europe - the EU - as a whole. This contradiction is easily perceived over the gap between the EU and the member states regarding the BRI.