France presses China on trade and Ukraine ahead of upcoming Xi Jinping visit

BEIJING (AP) — The French foreign minister pressed China on trade issues and the war in Ukraine on Monday ahead of a planned visit to France by Chinese leader Xi Jinping later this spring.

Stéphane Séjourné, in talks with his counterpart Wang Yi in the Chinese capital, largely echoed positions that have been laid out by European leaders, including Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on a visit to Beijing last week.

“The rebalancing of our economic partnership is a priority, as it is for our European partners,” Séjourné said at a joint news conference with Wang. “The European Union is a very open market, the most open in the world. But the current deficits with a certain number of countries, including China, are not sustainable for us.”

European officials have expressed concern that a flood of low-priced Chinese-made electric vehicles could disrupt production and displace jobs in Europe. The EU is investigating whether Chinese government subsidies for EVs give an unfair advantage to Chinese auto exporters. European companies operating in China are complaining that recent changes to national security laws have made it riskier to invest and do business in the country.

On the Chinese side, officials have raised concern about a “de-risking” strategy being pursued by the EU to ensure that it is not overly dependent on any one country for vital supplies and minerals. Wang expressed understanding for the European position but said he hopes it doesn’t negatively affect business sentiment.

“I believe the facts have proved and will continue to prove that China constitutes opportunities to Europe, rather than risks,” he said. “The two sides are partners not opponents.”

He also said that China is willing to import more “high-quality French products and services” and is working to resolve the concerns raised by European companies, including restrictions on the transfer of data overseas.

Séjourné insisted that Europe is not becoming protectionist and remains open to investment, a possible reference to attempts to woo Chinese automakers and other companies to create jobs by building factories in Europe rather than exporting their products from China.

Neither foreign minister mentioned a Chinese anti-dumping investigation into imports of French brandy that, together with the EU electric vehicle probe, could be a precursor to a trade war.

On the Ukraine war, he said France expects China, as a major country, to pass on clear messages to Russia. China, though, has a different stance on the war than Europe or the United States, both of which back Ukraine. China may have Russia’s ear, but it’s unclear what message it is delivering.

Séjourné said France is determined to maintain a close dialogue with China to contribute toward finding a path to a lasting peace in Ukraine.

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