Germany wants China to create a fairer business environment for foreign companies, especially German automakers seeking to tap into Beijing’s drive for greener cars, German Minister for Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel told Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) on Thursday.
German companies have long complained of obstacles to investment and acquiring local firms in China, where the government plays a more interventionist role.
Their concerns have acquired greater urgency with the advent of a more protectionist administration in the US and Britain’s plans to exit the EU, both issues that could harm German and wider EU commercial interests.
“China has again promised that it wants to proceed on the path of market liberalization and reforms,” Gabriel said after talks with Wang in Bonn, where foreign ministers from the G20 were meeting.
“I have as such urged Minister Wang that China reinforce that, with clear signals of equal treatment for foreign companies in China, for example in the field of electric mobility,” Gabriel said.
China surpassed the US last year to become the largest maker of pure electric cars thanks to a raft of government incentives to promote the switch from gasoline to electricity as the nation battles heavy pollution.
Sales of battery electric and plug-in hybrids increased 60 percent in January to November last year, to 402,000 vehicles. By 2020, China wants 5 million plug-in cars on its roads.
In September last year, Volkswagen AG signed a deal with China’s Anhui Jianghuai Automobile Co (安徽江淮汽車) to explore making electric vehicles in a new joint venture.
China has its own concerns about what it sees as European protectionism, particularly the EU’s refusal to grant China “market economy status,” which Beijing says is its right 15 years after it joined the WTO.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement issued late on Thursday cited Wang as telling Gabriel that China hopes Germany can play a “proactive role” in pushing the EU to grant “market economy status.”
Despite disagreements with China over obstacles to foreign investment, its massive steel exports and other issues, the EU increasingly sees Beijing as a crucial ally on global free trade in the face of protectionist pressures from US President Donald Trump.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that the EU, in which Germany is the largest economy, was preparing an early summit with China in April or May in Brussels to promote free trade and international cooperation.