Wednesday, 12 December 2018

China presses Europe for anti-US alliance on trade

BRUSSELS: China is putting pressure on the European Union to issue a strong joint statement against President Donald Trump’s trade policies at a summit later this month but is facing resistance, European officials said.

In meetings in Brussels, Berlin and Beijing, senior Chinese officials, including Vice Premier Liu He and the Chinese government’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, have proposed an alliance between the two economic powers and offered to open more of the Chinese market in a gesture of goodwill.

One proposal has been for China and the European Union to launch joint action against the United States at the World Trade Organization.

But the European Union, the world’s largest trading bloc, has rejected the idea of allying with Beijing against Washington, five EU officials and diplomats told Reuters, ahead of a Sino-European summit in Beijing on July 16-17.

Instead, the summit is expected to produce a modest communique, which affirms the commitment of both sides to the multilateral trading system and promises to set up a working group on modernizing the WTO, EU officials said.

Vice Premier Liu He has said privately that China is ready to set out for the first time what sectors it can open to European investment at the annual summit, expected to be attended by President Xi Jinping, China’s Premier Li Keqiang and top EU officials.

Chinese state media has promoted the message that the European Union is on China’s side, officials said, putting the bloc in a delicate position. The past two summits, in 2016 and 2017, ended without a statement due to disagreements over the South China Sea and trade.

“China wants the European Union to stand with Beijing against Washington, to take sides,” said one European diplomat. “We won’t do it and we have told them that.”

In a commentary on Wednesday, China’s official Xinhua news agency said China and Europe “should resist trade protectionism hand in hand”.

“China and European countries are natural partners,” it said. “They firmly believe that free trade is a powerful engine for global economic growth.”

In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said summit preparations were proceeding, and details would be announced in due course.

CHINA’S MOMENT?

Despite Trump’s tariffs on European metals exports and threats to hit the EU’s automobile industry, Brussels shares Washington’s concern about China’s closed markets and what Western governments say is Beijing’s manipulation of trade to dominate global markets.

“We agree with almost all the complaints the US has against China, it’s just we don’t agree with how the United States is handling it,” another diplomat said.

Still, China’s stance is striking given Washington’s deep economic and security ties with European nations. It shows the depth of Chinese concern about a trade war with Washington, as Trump is set to impose tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese imports on July 6.

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