Europe and China were on course for a reset. Coronavirus changed all that

A summit hosted by Germany's Angela Merkel with EU leaders and China's Xi Jinping is scheduled to take place in Leipzig this September.

(CNN)Before coronavirus brought the world to its knees, 2020 was slated to be a crucial year for the European Union and China.

At a showpiece summit in September, the two are set to take a significant step forward in their economic and strategic relationship. At least that was the plan.
China's response to covid-19 has left a bitter taste in the mouths of European officials. From draconian clampdowns on its own citizens to accusations of spreading misinformation in Europe, this crisis has been a reminder that closer engagement with China comes with risk.
    As things stand, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to gather EU leaders and China's President Xi Jinping in the German city of Leipzig on September 14.
      German diplomats say the location was selected because of the former East Germany's historical relationship with China. They say that Merkel, chairing the EU Council presidency for the final time in her chancellorship, was personally invested in the summit's success.
      Indeed, pulling China closer to European values on human rights, climate change and multilateralism is the sort of thing leaders' legacies are made of. And while the Leipzig summit is far from a make or break moment in Europe's relationship with China, this level of fanfare has a lot to live up to.
      However, there is a real sense in Brussels that the pandemic has led to a reset in European thinking on China.
        "I think the coronavirus has been a necessary reminder to a lot of EU states that however attractive Chinese money looks, it is also a systemic rival," says Steven Blockmans, head of EU foreign policy at the Centre for European Policy Studies.
        Blockmans is referring to a communique released by the EU Commission in March 2019, in which it described China as "a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance".
        In the context of coronavirus, that Chinese model of government is concerning EU officials.
        Last month, the European External Action Service published a report on disinformation surrounding covid-19, saying that "Official and state-backed sources from various governments, including Russia and -- to a lesser extent -- China, have continued to widely target conspiracy narratives and disinformation."
        Days earlier, Politico Europe published an excerpt from what it said was a draft version, which explicitly accused China of running "a global disinformation campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak of the pandemic and improve its international image."
        A spokesperson from the EU's Foreign Affairs and Security Policy told CNN the document cited by Politico was not in fact a draft report.
        Whatever the truth, it's clear that some in Brussels are very concerned about China's behavior.
        "It's all about seeing which (political) system is better at handling the virus. Is it a system that allows personal liberties? Or is it single-party autocracy where you can impose measures without worrying too much," said one EU official working across external affairs.
        A picture shows a screen of a video conference call between members of the European Council, seen at the Elysee Palace in Paris, on March 26, 2020, to discuss coordination of EU efforts to tackle the outbreak of covid-19.