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EU's Juncker demands fair trade from China ahead of summit

twitter-logoPTI | April 9, 2019 | Updated 20:36 IST

Brussels, Apr 9 (AFP) European companies should have the same rights in China as Chinese firms in Europe, European Commission head Jean Claude Juncker said Tuesday as an unusually tense EU-China summit kicked off in Brussels. The EU-China summit every year brings Beijing's number two leader the EU's top officials together and serves as a litmus test on the state of ties between Europe and the Asian giant. This year's meeting comes a month after the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, branded Beijing "a systemic rival" in a special 10-point report that stressed China's unwillingness to play fair on trade. "The Commission has a new strategy ... and we will explain that in Europe we are insisting that European firms in China should enjoy the same rights as Chinese firms in Europe," Juncker told a conference just minutes before his meeting with China's Prime Minister Li Keqiang. Despite the tensions, a European source told AFP the summit -- also attended by EU Council President Donald Tusk -- was set to end Tuesday with a joint declaration after both sides agreed to watered down wording. Achieving a joint declaration would narrowly avoid a diplomatic dust-up and a repeat of two years ago, when China refused to sign on to a statement due to a spat over trade. The annual meeting, where little is actually decided, comes as Brussels is trying to beef up its approach to the Asian giant on trade matters and security. A major concern is China's ambitious "Belt and Road Initiative" (BRI), a massive network of transport and trade links stretching from Asia to Europe. EU powers such as France and Germany are growing ever more uneasy with project after populist-led Italy joined the scheme, becoming the first G7 member to do so. Italy's move ran against the Commission's 10-point plan proposing a more assertive relationship with Beijing. It also underlined Europe's struggles to maintain unity among its 28 members when it comes to China, allowing the superpower to pursue one-on-one deals, especially with countries hungry for investment, such as Italy, Greece and eastern Europe. More powerful EU states also go out on their own with China. Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted President Xi Jinping for a summit, though he also invited German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the EU's Juncker for one leg of the meeting. But while Tuesday's meeting may not yield anything new in the EU's complex relationship with China, European officials insist it still has value in keeping up the pressure. "There is broad agreement within the EU that it is important to communicate to China that we are at a point where we want to see... concrete steps forward on their willingness to work with us at the WTO," an EU diplomat told AFP. "What is important is that we give a signal to China that the EU is partner but also a competitor and requires Beijing to make some steps."(AFP) RUP RUP

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