Foreign minister raises pandemic response, climate change at 17+1 summit

Eva-Maria Liimets.
Eva-Maria Liimets. Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Minister of Foreign Eva-Maria Liimets (Center) highlighted the importance of dialogue in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and climate change during the 17+1 summit organized between China and 17 European countries on Tuesday.

Liimets represented Estonia at the meeting after Estonia refused to send a higher-ranking official to the online summit chaired by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The summit looked at what has been done so far under the cooperation format and set the agenda for the next period. Representatives of all countries were invited to make a short statement.

Liimets highlighted the importance of dialogue in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. States should coordinate pandemic-related activities with each other and the measures taken to fight the pandemic must be in full compliance with international law and respect universal human rights, she said.

Additionally, the foreign minister raised the issue of climate change: "The environment is a crucial issue for us and all cooperation formats should therefore focus on meeting climate targets. We hope that China can meet its aim of achieving carbon neutrality before 2060, as stated at the UN General Assembly."

She welcomed the recent progress made with the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment and highlighted the urgency of concluding an investment protection agreement as the next step.

Participants named 2021 the Year of Green Development and Environmental Protection, with efforts focusing on increased cooperation to meet the objectives set in this field.

The 17+1 format was launched by the People's Republic of China and 17 includes Central and Eastern European Countries. The informal format was established to advance economic cooperation and has also contributed to bilateral relations with China.

Estonia has participated in summits since 2012 but many politicians are skeptical of the format and would prefer to deal with China as part of the European Union.

Both Estonia and Lithuania refused to send heads of state to the summit on Tuesday. Lithuania's transport minister was sent to represent the country.

Kallas: Let's review our policies

Prime Minister Kaja Kallas told ERR on Tuesday that previously prime ministers have participated in the 17+1 summits.

"In its relations with China, Estonia prefers bilateral co-operation and operating in the EU's 27 + 1 format, which enables the development of relations on the basis of EU unity, based on the EU's common values ​​and interests. This also applies to the protection of human rights, including in China," Kallas said.

"The government has just taken office and we are reviewing our policies. An Asian strategy is being finalized, which takes a more systematic and meaningful approach to cooperation with Asia and Asian countries. This also applies to different formats and participation."

She said analysis is needed before decisions are made and the new government needs time and wants to coordinate with like-minded countries.

Last year, Kallas said China's treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority is reminiscent of the horrors Nazi Germany inflicted upon the Jews.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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