EU will fight global protectionist tide, says envoy to China

Bloc will continue pursuing an investment deal and strengthening economic ties with Beijing

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 6:36pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 11:44pm

The European Union will continue pursuing a bilateral investment agreement with China this year, and objects to the protectionism rising worldwide, the bloc’s top envoy in Beijing said on Wednesday.

Britain’s exit from the EU would not affect the relationship between Europe and China, the EU ambassador to China, Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, said.

Schweisgut said the EU wanted more open and reciprocal market access from China, and that the bloc’s priority this year was to finalise the core items of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, with the aim of closing the deal in 2020. The two sides have been negotiating the agreement since late 2013.

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Schweisgut said the EU appreciated Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Davos speech on further opening up the country and contributing to an open and fair global trade system, and hoped China could live up to the world’s expectations in this area.

“I think it would be surprising, especially coming from the Chinese president, if [his promises] could not be translated into concrete actions,” he said.

The 27 member states of the EU would work on strengthening their relationship with China once Britain announced its exit plan from the bloc. That was likely to include negotiating a free trade deal with China, he added.

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“We are focusing not on possible future arrangements between the UK and third countries, which will obviously be pursued. But our priority obviously is strengthening the relationship between the European Union and China,” he said.

Against the backdrop of possible protectionist measures from new US President Donald Trump, the EU would continue favouring an open market, which had benefited Europe, China and the US in the past, Schweisgut said.

“There are issues to be addressed, but we do believe that this should not go in the direction of protectionism,” he said. “Europe remains the most open market in the world. And we do believe in international cooperation and strengthening economic ties, especially with China.”

Commenting on the punitive trade measures Trump has threatened against China, Schweisgut said Europe would “certainly not” engage in any kind of trade war with any of its partners.

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“Trade wars usually don’t benefit anybody. They are usually self-defeating,” he said.

Schweisgut also said rising strategic tensions between the United States and China were a cause for concern. But he added that people should not be carried away by rhetoric, and should stay patient to see how things evolve.

“We have been focused too much on sound bites and different statements coming from different players, not only politicians, but also media.”

Referring to recent aggressive comments by the Trump administration on restricting China’s actions in the South China Sea, Schweisgut said the meaning of the remarks was unclear. But the EU still believed disputes should be resolved on the basis of international law, he said.

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Schweisgut also expressed his concern over China’s recent restriction on NGOs, and its tightened internet controls. He said the EU would discuss some individual cases during its human rights dialogues with Beijing.