This story is being published for POLITICO as part of a content partnership with the South China Morning Post. It originally appeared on scmp.com on July 6, 2018.
China’s foreign minister Wang Yi urged his European counterparts not to “stab China in the back” amid the escalating trade tensions between China and the United States.
Brussels has also been irked by Trump’s plans to impose tariffs on European goods, but Beijing fears that the EU will strike its own deal with Washington, leaving China isolated.
Wang made the comments in a meeting on Thursday with his Austrian counterpart Karin Kneissl, where the Chinese foreign ministry also quoted him as saying: “China is at the forefront of opposing unilateralism and trade protectionism.”
He was speaking ahead of the formal announcement that U.S. tariffs would come into effect.
On Friday, China’s Ministry of Commerce said China would fight back against the U.S. and would take its case to the World Trade Organization.
The remarks were in response to Washington’s decision to impose 25 percent duties on $34 billion of Chinese imports.
China has been seeking support from the EU to counterbalance America’s actions — despite Europe’s complaints about “unfair” Chinese state subsidies to hi-tech firms and restrictions on market access — and officials are still working to build closer ties with the bloc.
A source close to Sino-Europe relations said that at high-level talks last month China had not pushed the EU to accept it as a market economy at the WTO as strongly as it had done previously.
The market economy designation would make it harder for China’s trade partners to defend anti-dumping duties on Chinese goods under WTO rules.
At the talks, both sides agreed to set up a working group to revamp the World Trade Organization to counter U.S. unilateralism.
The source,said the dialogue had gone “very well”, adding that Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Vice Premier Liu He were open to the EU’s concerns.
Wang said China’s opposition to protectionism was an effort to uphold its own legal rights and those of all countries of the world, including the EU’s member states.
Wang and Kneissl also spoke about cooperating to uphold the Iran nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, signatories to which include China and the EU.
On Friday Wang is due to meet foreign ministers from France, Germany, Russia, Britain and Iran to discuss the plan after the United States withdrew from the deal in May this year.
Jan Weidenfeld of the Mercator Institute for China Studies said: “The EU has been very clear about its intention to expand a rules-based international order, and it seeks partners in that venture.
“The U.S. is not a good partner at the moment, and the EU have planned to work together in this direction.
“At the same time, the EU has a difficult balancing act where it must work with the U.S. for damage limitation, and with China on the other hand to make progress on its promise to open up its markets further to Europe.”
However he predicted that the EU-China summit later this month would have a “good outcome.”