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story.lead_photo.caption FILE - In this Friday, May 22, 2020 file photo, delegates applaud as President Xi Jinping arrives for the opening session of China's National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. Throughout January, the World Health Organization publicly praised China for what it called a speedy response to the new coronavirus. It repeatedly thanked the Chinese government for sharing the genetic map of the virus “immediately,” and said its work and its commitment to transparency were “very impressive, and beyond words.” But behind the scenes, it was a much different story, one of significant delays by China and considerable frustration among WHO officials over not getting the information they needed to fight the spread of the deadly virus, The Associated Press has found. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan, Pool)

BRUSSELS -- Top European Union officials on Monday pressed China's leaders to open the country's markets further to European companies, show stronger leadership in overhauling world trade's governing body and step back from the brink in Hong Kong.

With criticism mounting that the EU has been kowtowing to Beijing, European Council President Charles Michel and EU commission President Ursula von der Leyen attempted to strike a tougher tone than usual, after video talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang.

The 27-nation bloc is China's biggest trading partner, but also an economic competitor, and as Beijing has become more assertive in recent years, the EU has struggled to balance its commercial interests with a country that it also sees as "a systemic rival."

"Progress is needed in many areas to rebalance this relationship, and we made clear that we need to resolve concrete problems," Michel said, firing off a list of outstanding issues such as market access, subsidies, regulatory issues, public procurement, the forced transfer of technologies and World Trade Organization changes.

No Chinese officials took part in the news conference.

Von der Leyen said Brussels and Beijing hope to soon sign an agreement on geographical indicators that would protect national producers, but she lamented the general lack of progress, particularly on lifting market access barriers, since last year's EU-China summit.

"We continue to have an unbalanced trade and investment relationship," she told reporters. "We need to follow up on these commitments urgently. And we also need to have more ambition on the Chinese side in order to conclude negotiations on an investment agreement."

In a statement after the meeting, the Europeans expressed "grave concerns" at China's decision to impose its security law on Hong Kong, saying Beijing's actions contravene its international commitments and "put pressure on the fundamental rights and freedoms of the population."

They also raised concerns about human-rights abuses in Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as reports of people who disappeared after expressing their views on China's handling of the coronavirus. The "continued arbitrary detention" of Swedish citizen Gui Minhai and two Canadian citizens -- Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor -- also was highlighted.

"For the European Union, human rights and fundamental freedoms are nonnegotiable," von der Leyen said.

She also raised concerns about a disinformation campaign by China linked to the coronavirus, and noted, without elaborating, that "we've seen cyberattacks on computing systems, on hospitals, and we know the origin of the cyberattacks. "

Von der Leyen described the EU-China relationship as "not an easy one, but one we're working on."

European Council President Charles Michel, left, waves to Chinese President Xi Jinping, video screen top, during an EU-China summit, in video conference format, at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, June 22, 2020. Top European Union officials are holding talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at a time of rising tensions between two major trading partners over the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Charles Michel, left, waves to Chinese President Xi Jinping, video screen top, during an EU-China summit, in video conference format, at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, June 22, 2020. Top European Union officials are holding talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at a time of rising tensions between two major trading partners over the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Charles Michel, left, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrive for a media conference at the conclusion of an EU-China summit, in video conference format, at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, June 22, 2020. Top European Union officials held talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at a time of rising tensions between two major trading partners over the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Charles Michel, left, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen arrive for a media conference at the conclusion of an EU-China summit, in video conference format, at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, June 22, 2020. Top European Union officials held talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at a time of rising tensions between two major trading partners over the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a media conference at the conclusion of an EU-China summit, in video conference format, at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, June 22, 2020. Top European Union officials held talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at a time of rising tensions between two major trading partners over the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Charles Michel speaks during a media conference at the conclusion of an EU-China summit, in video conference format, at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, June 22, 2020. Top European Union officials held talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at a time of rising tensions between two major trading partners over the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Charles Michel, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participate in a media conference at the conclusion of an EU-China summit, in video conference format, at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, June 22, 2020. Top European Union officials held talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at a time of rising tensions between two major trading partners over the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Charles Michel, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participate in a media conference at the conclusion of an EU-China summit, in video conference format, at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, June 22, 2020. Top European Union officials held talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at a time of rising tensions between two major trading partners over the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Charles Michel, left, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, right, arrive for a media conference at the conclusion of an EU-China summit, in video conference format, at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, June 22, 2020. Top European Union officials held talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at a time of rising tensions between two major trading partners over the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Charles Michel, left, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, right, arrive for a media conference at the conclusion of an EU-China summit, in video conference format, at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, June 22, 2020. Top European Union officials held talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at a time of rising tensions between two major trading partners over the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Charles Michel, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participate in a media conference at the conclusion of an EU-China summit, in video conference format, at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, June 22, 2020. Top European Union officials held talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at a time of rising tensions between two major trading partners over the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Charles Michel, right, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen participate in a media conference at the conclusion of an EU-China summit, in video conference format, at the European Council in Brussels, Monday, June 22, 2020. Top European Union officials held talks Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at a time of rising tensions between two major trading partners over the fallout from the coronavirus crisis and Beijing's increasing control over Hong Kong. (Yves Herman, Pool Photo via AP)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers by videoconference at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, June 15, 2020. The talks, which included a videoconference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, focused on China, developments in the Middle East and trans-Atlantic relations. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, Pool)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks during a media conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers by videoconference at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, June 15, 2020. The talks, which included a videoconference with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, focused on China, developments in the Middle East and trans-Atlantic relations. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, Pool)
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