EU presses China on trade vow, warns over new HK law

BRUSSELS • The European Union has told China to make good on a promise to open up its economy and warned of "very negative consequences" if Beijing goes ahead with a new security law for Hong Kong that the West says will curtail basic rights in the city.

Speaking on Monday after video calls with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and President Xi Jinping, two of the EU's leading officials said they had also repeated accusations that Beijing has spread disinformation about the coronavirus.

"The relationship between the EU and China is simultaneously one of the most strategically important and one of the most challenging that we have," European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told a news conference.

And European Council President Charles Michel said China was not reciprocating the welcome that Chinese companies receive in Europe.

Calling China a partner and a rival, Ms von der Leyen said Beijing had not followed up on a 2019 deal to allow greater access for European companies in China or drop rules requiring investors to share their know-how in Chinese joint ventures.

When asked about her comments, Mr Wang Lutong, the head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's Europe office, said yesterday that tangible progress has been made on areas like green financing and government procurement, and that patience was needed.

The Chinese Premier expressed optimism about China's relationship with the EU, according to Chinese state media, saying they are more partners than competitors.

But EU officials say they want to see progress in areas such as autos, biotech and micro-electronics. They also want Beijing to limit subsidies for state-run companies.

Germany has postponed an EU leaders' summit with Mr Xi in September, citing the coronavirus, though diplomats said it was in part because of the impasse in investment negotiations.

Mr Michel and Ms von der Leyen also expressed their concerns over China's security law for Hong Kong.

"We also conveyed that China risks very negative consequences if it goes forward with imposing this law," Ms von der Leyen said.

"The European Union is in touch with our G-7 partners on this topic and we've made our position very clear to the Chinese leadership today and urged them to reconsider," she added.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2020, with the headline 'EU presses China on trade vow, warns over new HK law'. Subscribe