Juncker steps up criticism of Chinese trade practices

BRUSSELS • European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker stepped up his criticism of China's trade practices just days after Chinese President Xi Jinping sought to soothe European concerns in Paris.

Mr Juncker told lawmakers in the German state of Saarland on Monday that, at a meeting on March 26, held together with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the European Union side explained that "it can't stay like this, that Chinese companies have free access to our markets in Europe, but we don't to the markets in China".

He also said Chinese investments in the continent can make it harder in the EU to agree on foreign policy.

"One country isn't able to condemn Chinese human rights policy because Chinese investors are involved in one of their ports," he said. "It can't work like this."

Europe has become more vocal in its criticism of China of late, calling it a partner as well as an economic competitor and a "systemic rival" on governance. Concerns are rising over its growing influence, predatory investments and possible hacking of 5G, or fifth-generation, data networks.

The EU has also been divided over China's Belt and Road Initiative, an infrastructure project which some see as a threat to sovereignty. Italy's populist government last month signed on to the initiative, brushing off the concerns.

Mr Juncker said he is not against the project "as long as the conditions are right". If European firms can profit from it and "if you don't meet only Chinese workers on these construction sites but also European workers, then this is all feasible".

On a trip to Europe last month, Mr Xi sought to lay to rest suspicions about his global plans. "We cannot let mutual suspicion get the better of us," he said. "We must not always be guarded against each other and worry that they may do something behind our back. That is very important. That is something we need to avoid."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2019, with the headline 'Juncker steps up criticism of Chinese trade practices'. Print Edition | Subscribe