(Bloomberg) -- China criticized the European Union’s decision to launch a probe into market access for medical-device makers, saying the move is an attempt to suppress Chinese companies. 

“The EU is sending a signal of protectionism, targeting China’s enterprises and it harms the image of the EU,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Wednesday in Beijing. “We urge the EU to abide by its commitments to an open market and the principles of fair competition.” 

The EU is investigating whether European companies are getting fair access to government contracts for medical devices. Many hospitals in China are run by the government, and it has been a long-standing complaint of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China that hospitals are being encouraged to buy Chinese goods, excluding devices made by foreign firms.

Beijing has never joined the World Trade Organization’s ‘Government Procurement Agreement’ which liberalizes access to government contracts for foreign companies. The EU is a member and China applied to join in 2007 but hasn’t finished the negotiations.

When asked why Chinese firms should get easy access to Europe’s market despite China never having joined this agreement and not providing European firms the same access, Wang stated that since China joined the World Trade Organization it had always abided by the rules and set an example for other nations. 

The EU and the US say that China is subsidising exports while aggressively favoring domestic companies at home, and this has damaged western industry and open markets and is distorting the global economy. Those concerns have led to diplomatic warnings and a swathe of actions on both sides of the Atlantic.

--With assistance from Alberto Nardelli.

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