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Safeguarding economy a priority, Dutch foreign minister says in China

BEIJING (Reuters) -Safeguarding the Dutch economy and cyberspace is a priority for the Netherlands, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra said in China on Tuesday as Western governments adopt an increasingly defensive stance towards Beijing.

Hoekstra was the first Dutch minister to visit China since the world's second-largest economy reopened its borders after three years of COVID-19 travel curbs.

Western governments have accused China of engaging in "economic coercion," illegitimate technology transfers and data disclosures. Officials have also voiced anxiety over protecting advanced technologies from Chinese entities.

"Like China, we have a responsibility to protect our national security and just as China protects its core interests, so we protect ours," Hoekstra told a joint press conference in Beijing with his Chinese counterpart.

The Netherlands, a supplier of advanced chipmaking machinery to China, is poised to restrict exports of semiconductor technology in the name of national security, joining U.S. efforts to curb chip shipments to China.

"We have shared our national security concerns," Hoekstra said, when asked by the media about Chinese threats to the Netherlands' economic security.

He declined to elaborate, but said he had an open and candid dialogue with Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang earlier on Tuesday.

Hoekstra said Qin shared Dutch concerns about cyber operations conducted from Chinese territory and reports of foreign interference operations on Dutch territory, including against journalists.

EXPORT RESTRICTIONS

The Dutch plan on export controls previously prompted a complaint from China, which urged the Dutch side to avoid what is said was the abuse of export measures by some countries.

The United States in October imposed export restrictions on shipments of U.S. chipmaking tools to China, but for the curbs to be effective it needed the agreement of other leading chipmaking technology suppliers in the Netherlands and Japan.

Japan has already said it would restrict exports of 23 types of semiconductor manufacturing equipment from July, which has also angered Beijing.

"As for the issue of lithography machines, China has serious concerns about this," Qin told reporters.

"We believe since both China and the Netherlands are each other's important trading partners, we should work together to jointly protect the normal trade order between us, the international trade rules and to jointly keep the global industrial and supply chains stable."

At a second press conference at the Dutch embassy, Hoekstra said the planned Dutch export controls did not target any one country and that details were likely to be published over the coming weeks.

Hoekstra added it was necessary to "seek contact proactively" with Beijing as a major economic power even if "the relationship has become more complex".

Asked if China was a priority partner for the Netherlands, he said: "Absolutely."

(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Ella Cao; editing by Ed Osmond, Paul Simao, David Gregorio and Barbara Lewis)