China, EU keen to push mes­sage of free trade, en­gage­ment

Malta Independent - - BUSINESS -

Bei­jing and Brus­sels were set Wed­nes­day to hold their first high-level talks since Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump took of­fice, with both sides ea­ger to push a mes­sage of free trade and open en­gage­ment in con­trast to the new U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion's skep­ti­cism about such ar­range­ments.

EU for­eign pol­icy chief Fed­er­ica Mogherini will co-chair the Sev­enth EU-China Strate­gic Dia­logue with State Coun­cilor Yang Jiechi, China's high­est-rank­ing diplo­mat.

Co­op­er­a­tion on re­gional and se­cu­rity is­sues and cli­mate change were among the agenda items for the talks, which come ahead of an EU-China sum­mit sched­uled for Brus­sels in June.

On Tues­day, Mogherini met with Chi­nese Pre­mier Li Ke­qiang, who said the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity was look­ing at how China and the EU would work to­gether to tackle chal­lenges in­clud­ing the world eco­nomic re­cov­ery, global con­flicts and ter­ror­ism, and Bri­tain's pend­ing with­drawal from the EU.

Li said he was op­ti­mistic about the out­come of the talks based on "a stable China-EU re­la­tion­ship, with the con­sis­tency of our two sides to­ward mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism and free trade, and with our joint com­mit­ment to im­prov­ing the in­ter­na­tional gov­er­nance struc­ture."

Un­like Trump, who was elected promis­ing to tear up trade deals, im­pose new tar­iffs and bring jobs back to Amer­ica, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping has cast his coun­try as a cham­pion of free trade and sta­bil­ity, and spo­ken out against pro­tec­tion­ism.

Mogherini said that such speeches by Xi "have raised high ex­pec­ta­tions that China and the European Union can work to­gether on mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism, on rules-based global or­der" and trade.

"Not only our peo­ple, but prob­a­bly the mul­ti­lat­eral sys­tem, need Europe and China to work to­gether on some of the ma­jor global is­sues we are fac­ing, from cli­mate change to mi­gra­tion or coun­tert­er­ror­ism, and also the many crises we have around us such as the ten­sions on the Korean Penin­sula," Mogherini told Li at the start of their meet­ing at the Chi­nese lead­er­ship com­pound Zhong­nan­hai in cen­tral Bei­jing.

Bei­jing and Brus­sels have dis­agree­ments on trade, how­ever, in­clud­ing com­plaints by European and other for­eign com­pa­nies that they blocked from ac­quir­ing Chi­nese as­sets while China's com­pa­nies are buy­ing ma­jor global brands. They also say they are barred from or sharply re­stricted in tele­coms, in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, fi­nance and other promis­ing in­dus­tries in vi­o­la­tion of Bei­jing's free-trad­ing pledges.

Bei­jing, mean­while, wants the EU to grant it mar­ket econ­omy sta­tus, which would make it harder for the EU to im­pose puni­tive tar­iffs on Chi­nese im­ports that it deems to be un­fairly cheap.

Other points of dis­pute between Bei­jing and Brus­sels in­clude China's in­creas­ingly re­stric­tive en­vi­ron­ment for civil so­ci­ety and in­ter­net cen­sor­ship.

Mogherini's first meet­ing Wed­nes­day, with Chi­nese For­eign Min­is­ter Wang Yi, was can­celed. A for­eign min­istry of­fi­cial said the EU del­e­ga­tion had in­formed them that Mogherini was feel­ing un­well.

Mogherini will give a speech at Bei­jing's pres­ti­gious Ts­inghua Univer­sity on Thurs­day, and then travel to In­dia and Rus­sia.

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