European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has spoken out against what he claims are unfair Chinese trade practices, just days President Xi Jinping wrapped up a tour of Europe in which he sought to build closer economic ties.
Junker claims to have addressed the issue directly with President Xi during a March 26 meeting in Paris, alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Speaking to lawmakers in the German State of Saarland Monday, Junker said he told President Xi that “it cannot remain that Chinese companies have free access to our markets in Europe, but we do not have access to the markets in China.”
Junker added that “there are limits that are set for us Europe, while here we set no limits for Chinese investors.”
Juncker’s comments expose something of the divisions within the European Union on how to handle Chinese investment and trade.
Just days before the March 26 meeting, Italy rolled out the red carpet for President Xi, hosting the President for a State Dinner and a private performance by opera singer Andrea Bocelli.
In a major win for President Xi, Italy became the largest economy yet and first member of the G7 to sign up to the Chinese leader’s signature global Belt and Road infrastructure plan.
It seeks to build roads, railways and shipping lanes to create long trading corridors linking Europe, Africa and Asia to China.
In his speech, Juncker said he wasn’t opposed to the Belt and Road, but it couldn’t only benefit Chinese companies. “If not only Chinese workers can be found on these construction sites, but also European workers are employed there, then it all works.”
Europe isn’t just divided over how to handle Chinese trade. The European Union has said its individual member states can decide whether to use technology from Chinese company Huawei in their 5G networks despite a strong push by the US for a continent-wide ban.
Juncker said the sensitivity of Beijing to any criticism on its human rights record made having a unified foreign policy increasingly difficult for Europe amid rising Chinese investment.
“One country is unable to condemn China’s human rights policy because Chinese investors are travelling in one of its ports,” he said.
“Another country can not support the decision of the Geneva Human Rights Commission because Chinese investors are travelling somewhere on its territory it can’t work like this.”
China is the EU’s largest trading partner, while Europe is China’s second largest after the US, with over $1 billion in trade between the two parties done every day on average.