You are here

Newly assertive EU faces resistant China at summit

By Reuters - Apr 09,2019 - Last updated at Apr 09,2019

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is welcomed by Federica Mogherini, high representative for foreign affairs and security policy ahead of a meeting at the European Council in Brussels, Belgium, on Tuesday (Reuters photo)

BRUSSELS — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and European Union institution leaders met in Brussels on Tuesday for an annual EU-China summit that the EU has seized on to pressure Beijing over trade and investment.

After years of offering free access to its markets, the EU is losing patience with the slow pace of Beijing's own market liberalisation. It is also growing concerned over state-led Chinese companies' dominance of some EU markets and acquisitions of strategic industries.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the summit "would not be simple". 

"We will explain that in Europe we are insisting that European firms in China should enjoy the same rights as Chinese firms in Europe," he said in a speech before the meeting.

Li arrived in a black Mercedes bearing two Chinese flags before going into the European Council building with Juncker and Council chief Donald Tusk.

The EU's newly assertive stance has made it difficult to agree a final summit declaration, a staple of such high-level gatherings, which this year the EU sees as way of setting down in writing Chinese promises to open up to European investors.

EU and Chinese negotiators agreed a tentative draft statement on Tuesday morning, four EU diplomats said. But any final communique needs to be signed off by Li, Juncker and Tusk.

Diplomats said a new draft included fresh commitments by Beijing to speed up talks on a decade-long effort to reach an investment pact, as well as text on industrial subsidies and opening China's market more broadly to European companies.

Like the United States, many EU countries want to crack down on industrial subsidies and forced technology transfers, although they prefer dialogue to the trade war Washington has triggered. A new Commission plan described China as a "systemic rival" for the first time last month.

"The old narrative is absolutely obsolete," Commission Vice President Jyrki Katainen told Reuters.


Top trading partners 


One diplomat said an EU leaders' summit in March had helped to forge a more unified European position that was paying off: there was a greater awareness of China's policy of pushing free trade only when it suited its interests.

The EU is China's top trading partner and China is the second-biggest market for EU exports after the United States. The Chinese deny trying to dominate strategic European industries and has repeatedly said it wants a "win-win" relationship of mutual benefit. 

But Beijing is struggling to ease worries about President Xi Jinping's signature Belt and Road Initiative as it readies for a major summit later this month.

Tusk and Juncker are expected to raise concerns about Xi's initiative, namely that the vast infrastructure plan is unsustainable, damaging to the environment, creates financial dependency and is mainly about projecting Chinese power abroad. 

"China aims to have a feel-good summit, whereas we aim to have a meaningful summit, with a meaningful outcome," Peter Berz, acting Asia director at the Commission's trade section, told the European Parliament last week.

China points to a new foreign investment law due to take effect at the start of 2020. It includes provisions to ban forced technology transfers and ensure foreign companies have access to public tenders.

EU officials say the law lacks detail, and question how effective it will really be in protecting foreign firms.

Li wrote in a German newspaper on Monday that China wanted to work with the EU on issues including trade, and denied Beijing was trying to split the bloc by investing in eastern European states.

40 users have voted.

Add new comment

This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
7 + 3 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.


Get top stories and blog posts emailed to you each day.