China and EU vow to defend free trade at talks in Beijing

Meeting between the two sides is first high-level exchange since Donald Trump became US president and embarked on protectionist agenda

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 19 April, 2017, 11:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 20 April, 2017, 12:11am

China and the European Union agreed to jointly uphold free trade and globalisation after their first high-level talks since US President Donald Trump took office.

The two sides discussed a range of issues from trade to security concerns including the North Korea nuclear crisis, and the situation in Syria and Afghanistan during the Seventh EU-China Strategic Dialogue in Beijing on Wednesday. The talks were co-chaired by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and China’s top diplomat and State Councillor Yang Jiechi.

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Yang said after the three-hour meeting China and the EU agreed to work together to uphold world peace and improve global governance.

Mogherini said in a joint press conference with Yang that the EU valued China as a permanent member of the Security Council and as a “key security and foreign policy partner”.

The talks come as the EU faces a series of internal challenges. Britain, one of the bloc’s major member, has started the process to exit the union, while uncertainties have arisen with upcoming elections in several other key members including France and Germany.

Yang said China would continue to support a united European Union “no matter how the situation has changed in Europe”.

The meeting was the first high-level exchange between China and the EU since Trump took office. The two sides have aligned in rejecting his protectionist agenda.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to portray his nation as the new champion of globalisation in his speech at Davos in January, although foreign companies operating in China have grown increasingly vocal about what they say is a lack of market reform and access.

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Mogherini said the EU listened “very carefully” to Xi’s Davos speech and the “commitment he made on behalf of China to free trade, multilateralism.”

Yang said the Chinese side continued to challenge the EU over its refusal to grant the nation market economy status, which Beijing argues is required under the terms of its accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2001. Yang said Beijing hoped EU lawmakers would change their stance soon.

The two sides also discussed the major summit China is hosting next month on its flagship new Silk Road initiative.

Despite leaders from major Western countries declining to attend the summit, Yang said China welcomed “active participation” from the European Union at the summit.

Mogherini also met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Tuesday.