06/10/2020, 00.00
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Political pressure and the absence of freedom stifling European businesses in China

European investors are calling for economic openings and liberalization. 43% of EU entrepreneurs feel oppressed; they criticize Chinese efforts to strengthen state-owned enterprises. The European Union wants greater reciprocity of treatment, but remains cautious about Hong Kong's status. Individual European countries align with Washington and distance themselves from Beijing.

Beijing (AsiaNews) - European companies in China believe the country's economy has become increasingly politicized and dominated by the state. This is what emerges from the annual survey carried out by the European Union Chamber of Commerce, which calls for economic openings and liberalization to overcome the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic – on the model of what Deng Xiaoping and Zhu Rongji did in the past.

About 43% of businesses surveyed felt oppressed by government policy. Sometimes under threat of retaliation, European companies are asked to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative (which aims to strengthen China's commercial role in the world); to avoid commenting on issues other than their field of work; to specify in their documents and websites that Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang are part of the People's Republic of China.

The European investors primary concern is equal access to the Chinese market. Their reference is to the fact that state-owned businesses, especially after the resumption of Covid-19 post-emergency activities, are "stronger, better and bigger"; this despite the eternal promises of a sector reform that gives more space to private initiative.

EU diplomacy chief Josep Borrell expressed the same concerns yesterday, stressing that Chinese companies do not enjoy any discrimination in Europe and that, without reciprocal treatment in China for European entrepreneurs, it will be difficult for the Union to conclude a comprehensive investment agreement with Beijing by the end of 2020. Borrell spoke at the end of a web meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

The European bloc is in the midst of an all-out conflict between China and the United States. The two superpowers are engaged in a tug of war over international trade rules, leadership in the development of new technologies, territorial disputes in the South China Sea and the status of Taiwan and Hong Kong.

The US government has threatened sanctions over China's decision to impose a draconian security law in Hong Kong. The EU has condemned Beijing's move, arguing that it violates the "one country, two systems" principle, the basis of the territory’s autonomy from the motherland, but has distanced itself from the bellicose approach of the United States.

That said, some individual European countries have aligned with the US in showing greater opposition to Chinese policies. In recent days, the Romanian government vetoed the construction of two nuclear reactors by China General Nuclear: the project was part of the Belt and Road scheme.

Miloš Vystrčil, president of the Senate of the Czech Republic, said yesterday that he would visit Taiwan in late August. He pointed out that China's threats had strengthened his intention to make the journey. Chinese leaders are against the Czech politician's initiative, as it represents an indirect recognition of what they consider a rebel province.

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