May 7, 2020 / 4:00 AM / 19 days ago

EU ambassador to China says rising Sino-U.S. tensions not helpful

BEIJING (Reuters) - Rising Sino-U.S. tension is problematic and undermines the broad multinational cooperation needed to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, the European Union’s ambassador to China said on Thursday.

Nicolas Chapuis told reporters during a briefing that China is in an unique position to help alleviate tensions and further its economic reforms to avoid destroying global supply chains, the decoupling of major economies and rise of protectionism.

“We are seeing high levels of tensions, strategic, economic, political, growing day after day. It is our opinion that these tensions are not conducive to the cooperative spirit we need today,” Chapuis said.

Trade tensions between China and the United States are threatening to flare up again amid criticism of how Beijing handled the coronavirus outbreak, with Washington saying it is weighing actions such as tariffs and shifting supply chains away from China.

“I am convinced that the EU voice is today more than ever necessary. We are the core of multilateral solutions that need to be taken to mitigate the coronavirus crisis and prepare for economic recovery,” Chapuis said.

Chapuis urged China to “be more ambitious” in its negotiations with the EU on a bilateral investment pact, even as the pace of negotiations has picked up since last October.

“If the agreement can be concluded in time, that is, in the next few weeks, this agreement will be one of the keys of global recovery,” Chapuis said.

China and the EU launched negotiations on a comprehensive investment agreement in 2013, and have held numerous rounds of talks since then. Sticking points have included reciprocal market access and a level playing field.

Chapuis added that although the Chinese have indicated they are willing to start a feasibility study on free-trade agreement between the EU and China, the EU prefers to finish the investment agreement first.

“Let’s work step by step. This is not the time for a free-trade agreement if we don’t have the comprehensive investment agreement,” he said.

China and EU leaders are slated to meet at a special summit in September.

Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; writing by Se Young Lee and Ryan Woo; Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Gerry Doyle

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