EU opens its ears to Chinese companies

Updated: 2015-02-06 07:40

By Fu Jing(China Daily Europe)

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Information, communications technology firms once at loggerheads with Brussels now courted

Three top European Union officials held talks with Chinese telecommunications and financial executives on Feb 3, a sign that the EU is becoming much more receptive to Chinese information and communications technology companies.

The talks in Brussels, the first of their kind by the EU with Chinese businesses in specific industries, are in stark contrast with the way the previous EU Commission dealt with technology companies Huawei and ZTE, accusing them of dumping and benefiting from state subsidies, claims Brussels later withdrew.

 EU opens its ears to Chinese companies

Luigi Gambardella (left), president of the ChinaEU Business Association, and Chinese Ambassador Yang Yanyi (center), speak at the high-level meetings at the European Commission in Brussels on Feb 3. Provided to China Daily

Analysts say the commission, which took office in November, needs to be more pragmatic if it wants to attract enough investment from China to realize its three-year, 315 billion euro ($358 billion) investment plan.

The meetings on Feb 3 were an initiative of the ChinaEU Business Association and were hosted by the European Commission. There were three high-level meetings of senior representatives of Chinese and European financial institutions, information and communications technology companies, and those who attended included members of the Chinese mission to the EU, led by Chinese Ambassador Yang Yanyi.

Also present were Jyrki Katainen, commission vice-president for jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness; Andrus Ansip, vice-president for digital single market; and Federica Mogherini, high representative for foreign affairs and security policy and a commission vice-president.

Luigi Gambardella, president of the ChinaEU Business Association, a new organization in Brussels whose aim is to promote bilateral trade, says: "The atmosphere at the meetings was very positive, and I was assured by Brussels high-level officials that China will be the EU's most important partner in the world in information, communications and technology cooperation. This is very encouraging and positive."

"Political commitment" is crucial for both sides if they want to work more closely together, he said, and the meetings had helped identify five areas of collaboration.

First, China and the EU should leverage their advantages in terms of technologies and market alliances, and thus establish a major strategic presence in the future 5G market.

"In this regard, we aim to push both sides to endorse that in the upcoming summit," Gambardella says, referring to the EU-China summit, to be held in the first half of this year.

EU opens its ears to Chinese companies

Second, in tandem with the 315 billion euro investment plan, Chinese investors will be encouraged to put their money in advanced EU digital infrastructure and services through dedicated joint ventures and public-private partnerships involving both European and Chinese information, communications and technology players and financial institutions.

Third, both sides plan to work more closely on smart cities, smart energy, and the Internet of Things, speeding up the delivery of successful projects. The Internet of Things means everyday objects being connected to the Internet and to each other.

Fourth, both sides aim to form a high-level task force to identify new opportunities for European businesses in China and Chinese businesses in Europe in fields such as high-tech innovation, e-commerce, online services, cloud services and big data.

Fifth, China and the EU will arrange major investment funding and incentives focused on incubating high-tech start-ups and collaborative innovation in Europe and China.

The participants committed to further discussing and identifying specific priority projects at a technical workshop, which could be organized with the European Commission, the Committee of the Regions and the Chinese government.

The proposals would later be presented to the European Investment Bank, in accordance with procedures of the EU investment plan. The aim is to create specific business messages to be ultimately delivered to political leaders in China and the EU during the coming summit.

"China and its companies are ready to invest more in European markets," Gambardella says.

"There is momentum for increasing the inflow of Chinese information, communications and technology investments in Europe, as well as creating new investment opportunities for European companies in China."

Jointly with efforts by Jean-Claude Juncker, the commission president, to stimulate infrastructure investment throughout the digital single market, both sides should act now to create fresh initiatives that will bring benefits to both European and Chinese markets, Gambardella says.

"We look forward to the next EU-China summit, which will be an important occasion to further boost the economic links in these strategic sectors."

Gambardella says ChinaEU provides a platform for constructive dialogue among industry leaders and top-level representatives of European institutions and the Chinese government. Fifteen Chinese and international businesses, such as ZTE and Bank of China, are involved in the initiative.

Discussions will promote collaboration and encourage investment in Internet, telecommunications and high-tech projects, thus bringing the EU and China closer together, he says.

Xiao Ming, vice-president of ZTE global and president of ZTE Europe, says the company aims to contribute to European society by developing the information, communications and technology industry and the field of smart energy.

By investing in Europe, ZTE aims to provide Europeans with state-of-the-art technology, and it is willing to work with European industry and European institutions in doing that. ZTE contributes to economic growth and creates jobs, Xiao says. Eighty percent of its staff in Europe are locals.

"We don't want to be seen merely as a Chinese company, but as a part of the local business environment and as a European player in all respects."

Beyond information, communications and technology, Chinese bankers are also looking to tap the potential of the EU investment plan, and have ambitions to shape a unified digital market.

"The EU-China relationship is a story of friendship and strong collaboration," says Zhou Lihong, managing director of Bank of China in Luxembourg.

"These days, being involved in telecommunications implies being able to look well into the future.... The banking industry will play its role as a strategic partner in taking on these challenging opportunities."

Gambardella says that with a commission led by Juncker, China and the EU have a chance to improve their relationship, and it is in the interest of EU institutions to move quickly on this front.

"I'm aware that all of them think Chinese investment in Europe is welcome.... Europe needs investment from China, and we believe something can be done in the area of information, communications and technology within the Juncker plan."

Liu Jia contributed to the article

(China Daily European Weekly 02/06/2015 page21)