European Union trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis warned that Europe will become more assertive as it tackles "unfairness" in its economic relations with China, as he stopped to speak at a university during his China trip.
"We recognise that the world needs China, but China also needs to see that the lack of reciprocity and a level playing field from China, coupled with wider geopolitical shifts, has forced Europe to become more assertive," Dombrovskis said in a speech at Tsinghua University on Monday morning in Beijing.
"The EU welcomes competition," he said. "But the competition must be fair, and we will be more assertive in tackling unfairness.
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"The EU needs a strong China to help the world succeed in green and digital transitions. But the EU cannot allow itself to be unprotected when our openness is abused and when our national security is at risk."
That has been the key message of Dombrovskis since arriving in China on Saturday and setting off on a four-day tour of Shanghai, Suzhou and Beijing, where he was due to attend the 10th China-European Union High-Level Economic and Trade Dialogue with Chinese officials on Monday.
In his 20-minute speech delivered to a room of about 80 people, mainly students, Dombrovskis added that the EU would "remain narrow and focused in scope" on national security, and not confuse it with "broader economic resilience or level-playing-field issues".
"[T]hat's how we are going to approach this in our economic-security strategy," he said, reiterating an earlier message that the EU's "de-risking" approach is not the same as "decoupling".
His speech also covered the EU's grievances about China's position on Russia's invasion of Ukraine and on the difficulties that European companies face in operating in China. He added that the EU hopes a large part of the bilateral trade and investment relationship can remain in place and "develop further".
Following his speech, Dombrovskis was due to meet Chinese officials including He Lifeng, the vice-premier overseeing monetary issues and foreign investment.
The meetings are expected to cover new bilateral tensions stemming from the EU's latest probe into a "flood" of cheap Chinese electric vehicles (EVs) into the continent. The announcement was made just over a week before Dombrovskis' trip.
In his speech at Tsinghua, Dombrovskis vowed that the investigation would be "fact-based" and have "substantial engagement" from the Chinese government and companies.
Dombrovskis, who started his China trip in Shanghai, spoke at the Bund Summit on Saturday, saying the EU has "no intention of decoupling from China", while repeating its "de-risking" approach. He also cited a trade deficit of almost 400 billion euros (US$426 billion).
His four-day tour ends on Tuesday. This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century.