Premier denies spying

China's No. 2 leader has sought to defuse tensions with Washington and Europe over technology and other issues by promising to treat foreign and domestic competitors equally.

Speaking at the end of China's 10-day annual legislative session, Premier Li Keqiang also denied Friday that Beijing tells companies to spy on their overseas competitors.

Li's rejection of spying accusations at a news conference was the communist government's highest-level effort so far to put to rest concerns that threaten Chinese access to lucrative markets for telecom and other technology.

"This is not how China behaves. We did not do that and will not do that in the future," the premier said when asked whether Beijing told Chinese companies to spy on foreign countries.

The United States, Australia and some other governments have imposed curbs on use of technology from Chinese vendors including Huawei Technologies Ltd. Washington is lobbying European and other allies to shun Huawei as their phone carriers prepare to invest billions of dollars in next-generation technology.

Huawei, the biggest global maker of network gear, has denied accusations it facilitates Chinese spying. Its founder has told reporters he would reject official requests to disclose customer secrets.

President Xi Jinping's government faces mounting pressure to repair trade relations with the United States and other major markets after economic growth fell to a three-decade low of 6.6 per cent last year. Activity has weakened further on multiple fronts including cooling export growth and a contraction in auto sales.

Li promised to create a "level playing field" for all competitors in China's state-dominated economy to "boost the vitality of the market." He pledged to open more industries to foreign investment but gave no details.

"We will adhere to the principle of neutrality and treat domestic and foreign companies as equals," the premier said.

Also Friday, the largely ceremonial legislature endorsed a law discouraging Chinese officials from pressuring companies to hand over technology.

The measure is part of an investment law that aims to address complaints China's system is rigged against foreign companies.

"This is designed to protect the rights and interests of foreign investors and attract more foreign investment," Li said.

Washington also wants China to roll back plans for government-led creation of global competitors in robotics and other technologies, and it was unclear if the measure would mollify Trump. He raised duties on Chinese imports in July in response to complaints Beijing steals or pressures companies to give up technology. Beijing followed suit.

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