China to Europe: ‘We can build a Silk Road in cyberspace’

Alibaba was one of the Chinese companies in Brussels to talk up cooperation with European businesses

Alibaba was one of the Chinese companies in Brussels to promote cooperation with European businesses. [Clive Darra/Flickr]

China’s top internet regulator assured European technology companies on Monday (6 July) that they’re welcome to set up shop in China, saying his agency monitors foreign businesses in a fair manner.

“China has promoted a series of laws and regulations to ensure cyber and internet security. It protects the Chinese but also the European enterprises,” said Lu Wei, director of the Cyberspace Administration of China, during a half-day of talks between European and Chinese tech businesses in Brussels.

Following Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to Brussels for last week’s EU-China summit, Wei was accompanied by representatives from large Chinese technology firms, including telecoms giant ZTE and Tencent, the developer of popular chat service WeChat.

>>Read: China: Greece is our problem, too

But European companies hoping to enter the Chinese market were reminded that they face a number of rules guarded by the country’s watchful regulators.

“Cybersecurity is closely linked to our national security,” Wei said. “As long as companies operate under our legal framework, we open our doors to all European companies.”

China implemented strict new rules this year that require non-Chinese firms providing software to banks to register with the government. The EU and US government have criticised that law, and called it a barrier to businesses seeking entrance to the Chinese market.

Some European technology companies have urged caution on investment plans and appealed to China to amend its policies, saying they could harm foreign businesses.

After first addressing the room in Chinese, Sylvie Forbin, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs at French multimedia company Vivendi, said that Chinese censorship authorities have to be fair in approving European media for sale. Forbin also cautioned against the piracy of goods in China and called Europe’s copyright laws “The instruments which facilitate the dissemination of cultural content online.”

Chinese-European investment fund

The meetings between tech executives came after months of talks on how Chinese companies would invest in Europe’s digital sector.

During last week’s summit in Brussels, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang alluded to a new Chinese-European investment fund.

On Monday, Yiyang Huang, a political counselor at the Chinese Mission to the EU, elaborated on that plan. “China will contribute with a very substantial amount of money,” he said.

Huang declined to say how much Chinese contributions would amount to, but said China would invest in “all areas” of the economy and specifically named infrastructure, internet technologies and agriculture.

That investment programme would be separate from the European Commission’s Juncker plan, which aims to attract €315 billion in investment funds to Europe.

Chinese officials have previously drawn comparisons between the Juncker plan and Chinas’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ trade strategy.

At least some part of those investment partnerships would go into technology: “We can build a Silk Road in cyberspace and we can build a digital Silk Road,” Minister Lu said of China’s cooperation in Europe.

Stephen Howard, head of global technology research at HSBC, told the roomful of Chinese and European businesspeople on Monday that he hoped the discussions would encourage Chinese telecoms companies to invest more in Europe.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in Europe in terms of network deployment at the moment,” Howard said.

Yang Yanyi, China’s Ambassador to the EU, called last month for a Chinese-European agreement on developing 5G mobile networks.

>>Read: China brings big banks along to talk EU tech investment

Monday’s talks touched on the Juncker Plan, but broadly focused on individual companies’ interest in expanding and partnering with other tech firms.

Some made clear there would be deals to come between firms beyond the government-pushed investment deals.

Shi Dongwei, Vice President of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, said that the company wants to bump up its consumer numbers from 350 million in China to two billion worldwide over the next ten years. For that, he says, Alibaba needs Europe.

“I believe in the future we’ll have many interesting projects for Europe,” he said.

Shi told EURACTIV that the company is looking to European SMEs as it expands into cloud computing, big data, entertainment and health.

“We’re looking forward to the cooperation with our European counterparts and to introducing and helping export their local products—and really, the well known brands and products—to the Chinese market,” Shi said.

Last week marked the 40th anniversary of EU-China diplomatic relations. During a bilateral summit, the EU and China set priorities for a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in the years to come.

The EU-China Strategic Partnership, which is based on the 1985 EU China trade and cooperation agreement, has grown to include foreign affairs, security matters and international challenges such as climate change and global economy governance.

The EU is China’s biggest trading partner, while China is the EU’s largest source of imports and 2nd largest two way trading partner and suppliers. The two partners trade well over €1 billion a day.

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