EU trade commissioner Karel De Gucht has called on China to respect its global responsibilities, saying "splendid isolation is no longer an option."
Speaking at a conference in the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels on Thursday (6 May), Mr De Gucht said China must match its newfound economic weight with greater participation in international governance forums such as the World Trade Organisation.
"With size comes responsibility," said the Belgian politician who has recently returned from a visit to China where he met the country's commerce minister, Chen Deming.
European businesses have increasingly expressed their frustration at a perceived slowdown in market-opening reforms in the Asian powerhouse economy, saying Beijing is succumbing to the protectionist calls of domestic producers.
Despite the tensions, trade between the two sides has grown over the past decade, with Europe now the primary destination of Chinese exports, while China is the second largest market for European exporters.
In 2009, the value of EU goods exported to China amounted to €81.6 billion, while Chinese imports hit €214.7 billion.
Europe has pointed to the need to address this imbalance however, with Mr De Gucht returning to the theme of market access. "China has greatly benefited from the openness of others," he said. "Therefore it is important for the EU to push China to champion openness and reform."
With little of substance to show for last week's visit, analysts suggest Mr De Gucht's hard stance in the presence of Chinese ambassador to the EU Song Zhe underlines a degree of frustration.
"His tough language suggests he is waiting for a sign from China that didn't come last week," Duncan Freeman, a research fellow with the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, told this website.
Reminding the audience of academics and policymakers that today marks the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and the EU, Ambassador Song denied China had yet to assume its role on the global stage, and stressed that national sovereignty had to be respected.
"China is an active facilitator and participator to global governance," he said. "Countries have different roles in global governance...we should fully respect the responsibilities of sovereign states."