France's Le Maire pressured China to lobby for market access and investment in electric cars

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France's Le Maire pressured China to lobby for market access and investment in electric cars

France's Le Maire pressured China to lobby for market access and investment in electric cars

The French finance minister said on Sunday that he had pressed Chinese leaders to open their markets wider to foreign companies and lobbied for investment in France's electric car industry, as the EU's second-largest. The economy followed Washington in reviving post-Covid economic talks amid growing tensions with Beijing. 

Bruno Le Maire also defended Paris' controls on foreign access to technology after officials said two Chinese nationals were under investigation for allegedly smuggling French-made processor chips to China and Russia for military use.

Le Maire met with Vice Premier He Lifeng, Beijing's top envoy on economic affairs, on Saturday. He followed Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who visited Beijing on July 9-10 as part of US efforts to restore frosty relations with China.

Le Maire and Yellen were warmly welcomed by Chinese officials as part of efforts to address the economic crisis by reviving foreign investor interest. But Beijing has given no indication of possible changes in technology and other policies that its trading partners say violate commitments to open the Chinese market.

The 27-nation European Union is trying to reduce its trade deficit with China, which reached 396 billion euros ($432 billion) last year. Le Maire further refers to French exports as cosmetics for space and agriculture, and space and agriculture as cosmetics for Pakistan.

Access to the Chinese market needs to be improved. "I think the conversation was meant to be central," Le Maire French said in an interview during our conversation. We want strong economic ties between Europe and China, between France and China. 

Chinese leader Xi Jinping's government has seen Europe as an alternative market and source of technology since Washington tightened controls on access to American processor chips and other high-tech goods and its ambitions to grow the industry. The dispute has raised tariffs on imports from China.

Le Maire and Chinese officials pledged cooperation on climate change, financing for developing countries, and nuclear energy. He announced plans to set up a group to resolve a dispute over China's market access for cosmetics, a major French export.

Le Maire also lobbied for investment from China's fast-growing electric car industry. He traveled to the southern city of Shenzhen from Wang Chuanfu, founder of BYD itself, one of the world's largest electric vehicle producers. BYD itself and others are starting to sell in developed markets with the Chinese Rose and Japan. Chinese machine supplier CATL has set up a subsidiary in Germany to supply carmaker BMW.

"We want China France to invest in electric vehicles," said Le Maire. "In climate transition, there is a place for Chinese investment in France, which allows us to strengthen our economic ties and take action against global warming."

The talks were overshadowed by Russia's war on Ukraine and complaints that China was helping Moscow evade Western sanctions, but Le Maire said he had not discussed the war with Chinese officials. However, he said it was in Beijing's interest to end the 17-month-old war. Emmanuel Bon, a security adviser to President Emmanuel Macron, said this month that China was supplying Russia with "military equipment," but did not elaborate.

"I want to make it clear that we want this war to end as quickly as possible," Le Maire said. "In fact, (it's) in China's interest, it's in the interest of global development, to establish peace as soon as possible."

Le Maire also defended French controls on technology exports and foreign investment in the high-tech industry. French authorities are investigating two Chinese nationals associated with chip producer Omic, who the newspaper Le Parisien said are facing possible charges of using forged documents to export chips to the Chinese arms maker.

French counter-espionage authorities believe a Chinese investor who bought control of Omic in 2018 was trying to transfer chip manufacturing technology to China, according to the newspaper. The ruling Communist Party is trying to develop its chip industry, but Washington has blocked access to advanced manufacturing tools and prompted allies Japan and the Netherlands to impose their own sanctions.

Chinese officials complain that their companies are unfairly targeted by restrictions on access to foreign technology. He warned that restrictions on access to semiconductors would disrupt the smartphone and other industries.

"Everyone can understand that France wants to protect its important technologies," Le Maire said. "We do not want any foreign country to have access to these French sovereign technologies."

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