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China to 'further open' its doors to Europe

April 8, 2019

China's Li Keqiang has attempted to quell European skepticism towards China's investment approach ahead of this week's EU-China summit. Some fear projects like the Belt and Road initiative aim to bind countries to China.

China Prime Minister Li Keqiang
Image: Reuters/J. Lee

China is prepared to "further develop its cooperation" with Europe "to build an open world economy," Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang said in an op-ed published in business daily Handelsblatt on Monday.

"China is ready to work with Europe to promote a mutual opening and a fair and equitable business environment for enhanced cooperation between firms on both sides," Li said.

Read more: Sieren's China: The cracks in the EU's united trade front

Li said China intends to "further develop its cooperation" with Europe over the maintenance of the Paris Climate Agreement and the Iran Nuclear Deal, the fight against terrorism and reforming the World Trade Organization (WTO).

China and the European Union are set to hold a summit on Tuesday on trade relations and global governance.

'United and prosperous Europe'

Some Europeans worry that China is taking a "divide and conquer" approach to the EU. Those fears were enhanced by trade agreements struck with the 16 countries comprising the Central and Eastern European Cooperation (CEEC) last year and recent nonbinding agreements with some EU countries as part of China's Belt and Road Initiative, an industrial investment project spearheaded by President Xi Jinping.

Read more: Can the new foreign investment law level the playing field in China?

But Li said the China-CEEC cooperation "is beneficial to balanced development within the EU, serves to bring unity to the EU and is a useful compliment to relations between China and Europe."

"We strongly support the European integration process in the hope of a united and prosperous Europe," Li added.

Map of silk road rail trade route

Fears over 'New Silk Road'

China has made a strong push to expand their Belt and Road Initiative to Europe. In March, Italy became the first G7 country to join the scheme. Xi has also sought to recruit France for the initiative.

However, since its inception in 2013, the Belt and Road Initiative has drawn complaints that it racks up huge debts and leaves nations reliant on China. Some countries, such as Malaysia, have cancelled plans to join the project. Others are also critical of how China forces foreign businesses to relinquish trade secrets to do business within its borders. 

Germany's Manfred Weber, who aims to succeed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, has cautioned that the bloc should not be naive in its approach to China. He believes that the Belt and Road Initiative has "political motivation" to leave countries beholden to China. 

The European Commission has also recently labeled China a "systemic rival" and an economic competitor. Günther Oettinger, Germany's EU commissioner, has even called for EU veto rights  over China's attempts to commandeer European infrastructure projects. 

dv/ng (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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