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BEIJING (Reuters) -Proposed European Union tariffs on Chinese goods are not a “punishment”, Germany’s Economy Minister Robert Habeck told Chinese officials in Beijing on Saturday.

Habeck’s visit to China is the first by a senior European official since Brussels proposed hefty duties on imports of Chinese-made electric vehicles (EVs) to combat what the EU considers excessive subsidies.

China warned on Friday ahead of his arrival that escalating frictions with the EU over EVs could trigger a trade war.

“It is important to understand that these are not punitive tariffs,” Habeck said in the first plenary session of a climate and transformation dialogue.

Countries such as the U.S., Brazil and Turkey have used punitive tariffs, but not the EU, the economy minister said. “Europe does things differently.”

Habeck said that for nine months, the European Commission had examined in great detail whether Chinese companies had benefited unfairly from subsidies.

Any countervailing duty measure that results from the EU review “is not a punishment”, he said, adding that such measures are meant to compensate for the advantages granted to Chinese companies by Beijing.

Meeting Zheng Shanjie, chairman of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, Habeck said the proposed EU tariffs were intended to level the playing field with China.

Zheng responded: “We will do everything to protect Chinese companies.”

(Reporting by Maria Martinez in Beijing; Editing by William Mallard)

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