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Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin attends a news conference in Beijing, China on Dec. 14, 2020.

THOMAS PETER/Reuters

China will conduct talks on an investment pact with the European Union “at its own pace,” its Foreign Ministry said on Friday, raising doubts about whether a deal can be sealed by year-end.

Negotiations for the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, which would grant European companies greater access to the Chinese market, have gone on for six years.

An EU official said last week that a deal was close after a push from Germany, which holds the EU presidency until the end of the year and is the biggest European exporter to China.

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But the latest comments by the Chinese government suggest otherwise.

China will “conduct talks at its own pace on the premise of safeguarding its security and developmental interests,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told a news briefing on Friday.

His comments echoed that of the Commerce Ministry, which said late on Thursday that reaching an agreement required effort from both sides to “meet each other halfway.”

Mr. Wang’s latest comments were also a walk-back from a day earlier. On Thursday, Mr. Wang had denied that talks were stuck owing to China making more demands on nuclear energy. “As I understand, talks are goings smoothly,” he had said.

A senior Western diplomat in Beijing said China had asked Europe for “impossible things,” such as access to sensitive sectors such as energy, water treatment and public utilities.

Another major sticking point is China’s reluctance to ratify international laws related to labour and other aspects of sustainable development, the diplomat added.

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