BRUSSELS — A summit meeting Thursday between the leaders of the European Union and the Chinese prime minister opened on a friendly note, with leaders emphasizing the rapidly increasing trade between the two sides.
But when the Chinese leader delved into more contentious topics, EU officials cut off the audio feed to reporters at the request of the Chinese delegation.
The high-level meeting in Brussels is also being used as a fond farewell to that leader, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. China will choose new leadership this fall.
Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, said in his opening statement that it was appropriate to use the occasion look at progress made since Wen took office 10 years ago and almost 10 years since the launch of a strategic partnership between the two sides. He pointed to great increases in trade over the past decade — 280 percent in goods, 380 percent in services.
Wen also began on a friendly note.
"China is a firm supporter of European integration," he said. And, in an apparent sideswipe at the United States, he added: "We both support a multipolar world and oppose unilateralism."
But toward the end of his opening statement, Wen veered into criticism.
"I have to be very frank in saying this," he said. "The two issues of lifting the arms embargo against China and recognizing China's full market economy status, we have been working hard for 10 years. But the solution has been elusive. I deeply regret this. I hope, and I do believe that the EU side will seize the opportunity and take greater initiative at an early stage to remove ... "
At that point, the audio was cut off and the video switched to pictures of the outside of the building.
Nicolas Kerleroux, an EU spokesman, said those parts of Wen's remarks were part of the substantive and private negotiations rather than the opening statement, and therefore the feed was cut at the request of the Chinese delegation.
The EU's arms embargo against China was imposed in 1989 following the suppression of protests Tiananmen Square.
The Chinese had already come under criticism for allegedly placing restrictions on the customary post-summit press conference. The Brussels-based International Press Association claimed that the Chinese restrictions were an attempt to keep out journalists whose views they did not like. In the end, the EU did not organize any post-summit press conference but plans instead to issue written statements.
Also Thursday, about 100 Tibetan protesters rallied in front of the EU headquarters building, waving flags and urging the EU to help the province achieve independence from Chinese rule. Demonstrators then marched to the European Parliament carrying placards calling for an end to Chinese repression of pro-independence activists.
Associated Press Writer Slobodan Lekic contributed to this report. Follow Don Melvin at http://twitter.com/Don_Melvin .