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China has dismissed growing concern in Brussels over the country’s record €400bn trade surplus with the EU in 2022, saying the gap will be significantly narrower this year.
The comments came as European Council president Charles Michel and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen met President Xi Jinping and his number two Li Qiang in Beijing on Thursday for the first in-person EU-China summit since the pandemic.
In what Beijing called “candid” talks, the two sides discussed issues including trade differences, climate change co-operation, and the wars in Ukraine and Gaza, but did not achieve any major breakthroughs.
Von der Leyen told reporters after the summit the root causes of China’s trade surplus with the EU were “well-known” — a lack of market access for European companies and Beijing’s preferential treatment of domestic companies as well as overcapacity in Chinese production.
“If you look at the last two years, the trade deficit has doubled,” she said, adding that this was unsustainable.
But China’s foreign ministry director-general for European affairs Wang Lutong said in a separate briefing after the summit that the Asian country’s surplus with the EU was already falling. China’s customs administration has reported a deficit of Rmb1.4tn (€183bn) for the first 11 months of this year, down 17 per cent compared with a year earlier.
“Both sides discussed about what Brussels has been calling imbalance about bilateral trade — we don’t think China could be held accountable for this,” Wang told reporters after the talks.
He said China did not believe there was overcapacity in its electric vehicles sector, which is facing an anti-subsidy investigation in the EU, especially given the enormous need for such products.
“I think a lot of industries in China developed . . . because of innovation,” Wang said, adding that the EU itself was spending billions on subsidies for battery industries.
The EU needed to decide if it wanted to benefit from China’s industrial prowess in renewable industries as Europe made the transition to a green economy, he added.
“If you want us to support the EU in the green transition, do not be protectionist — you make the choice,” he said.
Thursday’s summit followed growing tensions not only over trade, but also over China’s refusal to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While Beijing has called for a ceasefire, Brussels wants it to pressure Moscow to withdraw its troops completely from Ukraine.
“Sometimes European politicians say to us that China needs to speak to Russia, we need to speak to President Putin about [withdrawing] their soldiers,” Wang said. “But this is a very independent sovereign nation. President Putin is making his decision based on his own national interest and security.”
He said Europe itself should hold talks with Russia about negotiating with Ukraine, while Washington and Moscow should discuss a strategic security framework.
China was also upset about new sanctions being launched in the west against its companies over supplying goods to Russia, Wang said. Europeans should not ask China to help them on “the one hand and on the other harm our national interest”, he added.
If China’s companies were subject to unilateral sanctions, “definitely we will respond accordingly”, Wang said.
Despite the lack of tangible results, some analysts said the smooth holding of the summit marked progress for China-EU relations given recent tensions.
“Strengthening dialogue and co-operation is conducive to enhancing political trust,” said Liu Lirong, associate professor at the Centre for European Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Additional reporting by Henry Foy and Andy Bounds in Brussels
Source: Financial Times