China must strike a balance between opening up and protecting its markets, EU diplomat says

Jun Mai
·3-min read

China must strike a balance between opening up and promoting free trade while defending its domestic markets and increasing self-reliance, a European diplomat said in Beijing on Thursday.

Speaking at a seminar hosted by the Centre for China and Globalisation, Nicolas Chapuis, the European Union’s ambassador to China, said Beijing’s new “dual circulation” economic strategy was expected to take centre stage at next week’s G20 meeting.

“All eyes will be on China, especially after President Xi [Jinping]’s speech at the CIIE,” he said, referring to a vague promise Xi made at the China International Import Expo in Shanghai last week to keep China’s doors open.

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“The big question China is asking itself is how to strike the right balance between autonomy, resilience of our economies and open and free trade,” Chapuis said.

“If we continue to go on the path of the past few months of big power competition, then let me say this very clearly, that we are all going to fail. So we will recover together or we fail separately.”

EU ambassador Nicolas Chapuis says China’s “dual circulation” economic strategy is set to take centre stage at next week’s G20 meeting. Photo: Reuters
EU ambassador Nicolas Chapuis says China’s “dual circulation” economic strategy is set to take centre stage at next week’s G20 meeting. Photo: Reuters

China’s leaders, including Xi, have regularly used the phrase “dual circulation” this year to describe the country’s new strategy amid economic and political headwinds, especially from developed countries.

The idea, which gives more weight to the domestic rather than the global economy, was enshrined at a meeting of China’s leaders last week at which they set out the framework for the country’s next five-year plan, including the need to make technological self-reliance a pillar of its development strategy.

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Beijing has repeatedly said the dual circulation idea does not mean it will halt the opening up of its markets, but doubts remain in the international community.

“How is China going to walk the talk of openness when all major economies are suffering?” Chapuis asked. “What is dual circulation? We’ll have a lot of conversation about that [at the G20 meeting].”

The envoy also hit out at Beijing’s decision to close its borders to visitors from several countries in Europe, which is battling a new wave of coronavirus cases.

Over the past week, China has suspended entry for foreign visitors from at least 11 countries, including France, Italy, Britain and Belgium, over concerns about importing Covid-19.

“China is closing its border again, like at the end of March, to every European. This is not going to go well in Europe. The image of China is suffering from that,” Chapuis said.

“I understand we need to protect China’s population. But sorry, the virus is no more European than it was Chinese,” he said.

“So if you stop mobility you stop everything. You stop trade, you stop business. We have too many issues today with people being stuck … It needs to open its border now.”

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