EU leaders call for end to "naivety" in relations with China
* EU to host summit with China on April 9
* Macron says EU must view China in strategic not trading
* Italy and others have signed up to Chinese Belt and Road
(Adds leaders' comments after debate)
By Philip Blenkinsop and Robin Emmott
BRUSSELS, March 22 (Reuters) - European Union leaders called
for an end to naivety on Friday in relations with Beijing and
said China was a competitor whose markets were not sufficiently
open, although they did not spell out specifically what they
planned to do.
The bloc has sought to avoid taking sides in a multi-billion
dollar trade war between Washington and Beijing.
But it has become increasingly frustrated by subsidies and
state involvement in the Chinese economy, and what it sees as a
slow pace of opening up. It plans to raise these issues at an
EU-China summit on April 9 after years of granting China almost
unfettered access to EU markets.
French President Emmanuel Macron, among the most vocal EU
critics of Beijing, said that he recognised there was a
divergence of views in the bloc but that letting Chinese
companies buy up EU infrastructure such as ports had been a
"The period of European naivety is over," Macron told a news
"The relationship between EU and China must not be first and
foremost a trading one, but a geopolitical and strategic
relationship," he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Europe should consider
China as much a competitor as a partner, a view echoed by her
Austrian counterpart Sebastian Kurz and European Commission
President Jean-Claude Juncker.
EU leaders had been intending to discuss China on Thursday
at their summit, but their schedule was blown off course by a
long day of talks over how to deal with Britain and its looming
departure from the bloc.
The discussion on China was long, but did not produce a
The goal of presenting a united front on China was
complicated by a simultaneous visit by Chinese President Xi
Jinping to Italy, whose eurosceptic government was due to sign
an accord drawing the country into China's giant "Belt and Road"
Other largely eastern EU countries have also signed up to
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said other EU leaders
did not appear to have a problem with Rome's Belt and Road
plans. Italian officials said Rome would comply with EU rules,
such as on fair procurement and the environment.
"As far as he explained it, I have nothing to criticise for
now, but have already discussed that it is even better if we act
together," Merkel said.
Brussels, like Washington, is questioning why China is
regarded under World Trade Organization rules as a developing
country given special treatment, while being on course to become
the largest economy in the world.
"We need fair rules and naturally also protection for
intellectual property and know-how from Europe and proper
treatment of our investors in China," Kurz said.
In signs the European Union wants to end unfettered access
to Chinese business, it is about to introduce a system to screen
foreign investments, particularly those affecting vital
infrastructure or technology.
The European Commission, which coordinates trade policy for
the 28 member nations, has also urged leaders to back its plan
to limit access to EU public tenders worth 2.4 trillion euros
($2.7 trillion) to companies from countries whose procurement
markets were not open.
Pro-free trade countries such as the Nordics and the
Netherlands say the plan could unfairly restrict commerce and
amount to a surcharge for taxpayers by shutting out cheaper
The EU leaders also discussed Huawei Technologies Co
and whether it should be allowed to provide equipment
for future high-speed 5G networks. The U.S. government has said
the equipment could be used to spy on the West.
"I think we need a base of rules to be respected by anyone
who wants to do 5G in Europe," Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier
The European Commission has said it will come up with a
recommendation about 5G after the EU summit.
($1 = 0.8848 euros)
(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Robin Emmott; Additional
reporting by Robin Emmott, Francesco Guarascio, Andreas Rinke,
Thomas Escritt, Anthony Deutsch and ; Editing by Hugh Lawson)
First Published: 2019-03-22 14:13:21
Updated 2019-03-22 18:30:12
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