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31 May, 2013

Commentary: Chinese premier’s strong message to Europe

by Xinhua writer Shang Jun

BEIJING, May 28 (Xinhua) — Li Keqiang wrapped up his first official visit abroad as Chinese premier on Monday with a clear and strong message to Europe: more cooperation, less protectionism.

In Germany, the last stop of his four-nation tour, Li reiterated China’s firm opposition to the European Union (EU)’s plan to launch a trade probe into Chinese mobile telecommunications products and slap punitive duties on Chinese solar panels.

The two individual cases deserve China’s grave concern since billions of dollars of its exports and thousands of jobs are at stake. But what is more worrisome for Beijing is the rising protectionism within the EU and a more aggressive approach taken by Brussels.

In the case of telecom products, the European Commission proposed the investigation on its own initiative, a rare move by the EU’s executive arm, while the pending duties on Chinese solar panels were also hammered out by the Brussels-based commission despite opposition from most of EU member states.

By playing up to protectionist forces, Brussels is risking a tit-for-tat trade war with Beijing, which would in no way stand idly by.

Given the scale of bilateral trade, any confrontation between China and the EU would cost each other dearly and is certainly undesirable.

Trade has been the main pillar of China-EU relations, and keeping the trade ties stable accords with the interests of both sides and demands proper resolution of trade disputes through dialogue and consultation, rather than punitive measures.

During Li’s trip, China showed its determination to keep market open and to pursue trade liberalization with its partners by concluding the free trade talks with Switzerland, a non-EU country.

This sends an encouraging signal to the fight protectionism and sets a good example for cooperation between China and Europe at large.

China attaches great importance to its relations with Europe, which is fully demonstrated by the fact that two European countries, namely Switzerland and Germany, were among the destinations of Li’s first overseas tour after he took office in March.

As two highly complementary economies, China and Europe can make full use of their respective advantages and make a bigger cake to share between them. By resisting the temptation of protectionism, the EU can work hand in hand with China to tap the huge potential for their further cooperation.

For that to happen, Brussels needs to heed the anti-protectionism call from China and take it seriously.