BRUSSELS – China’s prime minister was meeting top European Union officials Tuesday to discuss thorny issues including better access for European companies to Chinese markets and security concerns over high-speed 5G network technology.
The stakes at the annual summit are high with two-way trade between the EU and China worth around 575 billion euros ($648 billion) annually.
A senior EU official speaking on condition of anonymity because the meeting had yet to happen says that the EU wants “a more balanced financial-economic relationship” with Beijing and for European companies to have the same access to Chinese markets as Chinese businesses have to Europe’s markets.
Against a backdrop of trade tensions between the United States and both China and the European Union, European countries want to improve trade links with China while also applying pressure over its business practices.
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom has called out China for “unfair trade practices” that highlight the challenges posed by its state-led economy, such as government subsidies intended to give its companies a competitive advantage.
Another issue is China’s policy of forcing foreign companies to turn over intellectual property as a condition for access to its big and growing market – an issue that Washington has also made a centerpiece of its trade dispute with Beijing.
China preserves its domestic markets for national champions while placing “onerous requirements” on EU companies doing business there, the EU’s executive Commission said last month in a strategy report, which also called the country a “systemic rival.”
The EU in December stepped up a World Trade Organization legal challenge filed in 2018 against China’s forced tech transfers, calling it a major issue affecting European companies.
In an indication of tensions around the meeting between Prime Minister Li Keqiang and European leaders Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, officials worked through the weekend in an attempt to finalize a summit joint statement.
The summit comes two weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed during a visit to Paris to work with European leaders to seek fairer international trade rules.
China wants a bigger role in international organizations like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund.
The EU leaders also plan to discuss human rights issues and China’s influence over international questions including the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the crisis in Venezuela and the Iran nuclear deal.
Security concerns around the rollout of next generation communications networks will also be discussed. EU officials say that it is up to individual member states to address security issues, but the European Commission wants to see co-ordination on risk assessments.
AP Business Writer Kelvin Chan in London contributed to this report.