Ambassador: China accepts EU criticism but not unfounded attacks or meddling

European Parliament's foreign affairs committee meeting. 22 September 2020 Brussels, Belgium [Screenshot/EbS]

China accepts well-intended criticism coming from the EU, but it does not accept malicious attacks and will not allow anyone to meddle in its internal affairs, the country’s ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming, told the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee (AFET).

His comments came a week after EU and Chinese leaders agreed at a virtual summit to speed up negotiations and conclude before the end of the year a long-standing investment deal, despite Europe’s lingering concerns over Beijing’s human rights record and its treatment of Hong Kong.

“The two sides have made significant progress on level playing field issue and are stepping up efforts to find a potential landing zone on market access and sustainability,” Zhang told EU lawmakers on Monday (21 September).

Zhang said he hopes both sides could reach a comprehensive, balanced and high-level agreement this year, “which can stand the test of times and satisfy the people in both China and the EU.”

High-level dialogues on digital and climate between Commissioners Margrethe Vestager and Valdis Dombrovskis with Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, a key advisor to President Xi Jinping, “could offer more opportunities to enrich EU-China cooperation”, Zhang said.

“China stands ready to be the EU’s green and digital partner,” he added.

EU, China make progress on investment deal despite human rights tensions

The leaders of the EU and China agreed to speed up negotiations to conclude a long-standing investment deal during a virtual summit on Monday (14 September), despite Europe’s lingering concerns over Beijing’s human rights record and its treatment of Hong Kong.

He, however, took aim at the EU’s foreign direct investment (FDI) screening mechanism that investigates foreign takeovers of strategic assets including key infrastructure and high technology.

Although the mechanism is monitoring investment from all foreign countries, the bloc has in recent years been specifically worried by Chinese investment initiatives.

“We are hearing more and more complaints from Chinese companies in the EU saying that their business environment here is becoming less friendly, and that policy uncertainties are on the rise,” Zhang said.

According to the Chinese ambassador, the EU’s policies on 5G technology, FDI screening, and the bloc’s competition rules “have already dampened the confidence of Chinese companies.”

“Some are saying that Europe is already quite open, and the ball is in China’s court to rebalance the economic and trade relations. Yet, to foster an open, fair, just and non-discriminatory regulatory environment, both sides need to move in the same direction, and neither should stop or backslide,” Zhang said.

“I hope you can also read the recommendation report published by the China Chamber of Commerce to the EU this month, take the concerns of Chinese businesses seriously, and get them properly addressed. We will do the right things at the right time,” Zhang said.

In a swipe at the EU’s criticism against Chinese disinformation, the ambassador added:

“What comes first is to run one’s own affairs well, not attempt to remould the other (…) and when observing China’s affairs, one must respect the facts based on facts and not follow and spread biased information.”

Earlier this year, it was revealed that China had sought to block an EU report alleging that Beijing was spreading disinformation about the coronavirus outbreak.

The report was eventually released, albeit just before the start of the weekend Europe time and with some criticism of the Chinese government rearranged or removed, a sign of the balancing act Brussels is trying to pull off as the coronavirus outbreak scrambles international relations.

“Our rival is the virus – not each other,” Zhang told EU lawmakers in an indirect response to warnings made by EU chief diplomat Josep Borrell that the EU must adopt a “more robust” strategy to deal with an increasingly assertive “systemic rival”, China.

EU-China summit to weigh geopolitics and trade as tensions mount

EU leaders are set to hold virtual talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday (14 September), hoping to make progress on trade and investment, even as tensions mount between Beijing and the West over Hong Kong and treatment of the country’s Uighur Muslim minority.

The ambassador also rejected criticism of China being a police state.

“If you go to China, you may be surprised you cannot see too many police officers on the streets, many of them do not carry arms. The Chinese government protects the freedoms and liberty of individuals.”

In recent weeks, EU member states did express “grave concern” over China’s security law for Hong Kong but agreed sanctions that against China would not solve problems with Beijing.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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