By Reuters
January 25, 2017

The European Union urged China on Wednesday to make “concrete progress” in opening its markets to global investment, after Chinese President Xi Jinping decried protectionism in a speech at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“A speech is a speech and actions are actions,” said Hans Dietmar Schweisgut, EU Ambassador to China, adding that he would be “surprised” if Xi was unable to translate words into action.

At Davos last week, Xi called for “inclusive globalization” and for global unity, saying “self-isolation will benefit no-one,” two days before the inauguration of U.S. President Donald Trump.

During that week, China’s cabinet issued measures to further open the economy to foreign investment, including easing limits on investment in banks and other financial institutions. No further details were provided, nor a timetable for their implementation.

So far, the EU has not seen “sufficient signs that China will be willing to grant reciprocity of market access to European companies,” Schweisgut told reporters in Beijing.

In June 2016, the European Chamber of Commerce in China warned that foreign companies face an increasingly hostile environment in China, with fewer than half its members saying they planned to expand operations in the world’s second-largest economy.

Billionaire investor Wilbur Ross, Trump’s choice for commerce secretary, has called China the “most protectionist” country in the world, and said China’s officials “talk much more about free trade than they actually practice.”

Trump has previously criticized China’s trade practices and threatened to impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports, and while he did not mention China at his inauguration, he pledged to put “America first” in a nationalist speech.

Schweisgut played down chances of a trade war between China and the United States, saying it would be “self-defeating” and that to speculate about the risk is to “look too far down the road.”

China has said it is confident it can resolve trade disputes with the new U.S. government, though some state media and government advisors have warned that U.S. aircraft manufacturers, automobile companies and agricultural products could be caught in the cross-fire of increased trade tensions.

When asked whether Europe saw any opportunities in China’s warnings of punitive measures against the U.S., Schweisgut said this was “interesting speculation” but that he did not know enough about Trump’s trade policy plans to comment.

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