China hits back at EU over systemic rival warning
Author: CSEBA / SEEbiz / Financial Times
19th March 2019
BRUSSELS - China has hit back at Brussels’ decision to brand it a “systemic rival”, insisting that relations with the EU will be co-operative despite widening divisions in areas from trade to digital security.

Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, promoted a 10-point plan for joint action on bilateral ties in Brussels on Monday — a counterthrust to a much more critical list of the same length released by the EU last week. 

Tensions intensified on Monday when it was confirmed that President Xi Jinping would visit France, Monaco and Italy this month, raising fears that Beijing is trying to divide the bloc.

Rome has planned to use Mr Xi’s visit to formally endorse China’s contentious Belt and Road global investment drive, which other big EU countries have resisted.

Mr Wang said some competition between China and the EU was inevitable but that joint action in pursuit of “win-win outcomes” was crucial. 

“Co-operation is a mainstay of China-Europe relations,” he told reporters in Brussels. “For the past, the present and the future, it will always be the same.” 

He said a joint agenda for action with the EU included a commitment to multilateralism, World Trade Organization reform and the peaceful resolution of international disputes. He declared that Mr Xi’s visit would be a “highlight” for China-EU relations and a sign of the importance China attached to Europe, “regardless of international changes”. 

“Between China and Europe sometimes we have differences — but we have far more common ground than differences,” he added. 

Mr Wang had sharp words for growing fears in the US and Europe of the potential security risk of using equipment provided by Chinese technology companies, notably Huawei’s kit for new 5G mobile communication networks. He condemned what he described as “groundless accusations for political purposes and attempts to bring down a foreign company”. 

“We think such practices are abnormal, immoral and have no support,” he said. 

The Chinese envoy’s talks in Brussels with foreign ministers from the EU’s 28 countries kicked off an intense few weeks of Europe-China diplomacy. Bloc leaders are due to discuss the relationship among themselves this week and hold a summit next month with China’s prime minister Li Keqiang.

The paper published by the European Commission and the EU’s diplomatic service last week, which labelled Beijing an “economic competitor” and a “systemic rival”, marked a toughening of the EU’s tone.

It threatened retaliatory action in several areas, including Chinese interests in Europe, if Beijing did not stop what Brussels argues are unfair investment practices and treatment of European companies. 

Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, attempted to play down the friction laid bare in the paper, which she said was primarily aimed at promoting internal debate among EU leaders at their summit later this week.

She said the bloc was “committed to strengthening co-operation with China” as a “comprehensive strategic partner”, although she acknowledged the association was not straightforward. 

“It’s indeed not a black and white picture,” she said. “It’s a complicated picture of a very intense, very deep and very broad relationship that defines different areas and different approaches in a way that’s always constructive.” 


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