BEIJING, May 30 (Reuters) - State media on Thursday repudiated claims China was pressuring the European Union to drop plans to impose punitive import duties on Chinese solar panels, adding EU member states had a right to dissent.
The EU's trade chief, Karel De Gucht, bluntly told China this week it was wasting its time trying to put pressure on him to drop the duties plans.
But in a statement carried by the official Xinhua news agency and posted on the Chinese government's main website (www.gov.cn), China's mission to the EU denied it was doing this.
"It's been reported that certain EU member states have expressed differing opinions on the duties the European Commission wants to put on exports of solar panels to Europe," the statement cited an unnamed spokeswoman as saying.
"I'm certain that this is a rational judgement made by them after conscientiously weighing up the pros and cons. There is no such thing as exerting pressure," the spokeswoman added.
The European Commission, the EU's executive, accuses China of flooding Europe with cheap solar panels sold at below the cost of production, and intends to impose duties.
That has prompted energetic lobbying from Beijing against the move and divisions have emerged in Europe on the issue, foreshadowing a bruising internal battle over how to respond to China's trade practices.
De Gucht, who met Chinese Vice-Minister of Commerce Zhong Shan in Brussels on Monday, has confirmed there was widespread resistance among member states to the duties, but said governments were clearly being lent on by Beijing.
The split between the Commission and EU member countries, as well as division among the bloc's 27 governments, sets the European Union up for a potentially debilitating dispute over how to deal with China, its second largest trade partner.
Reuters spoke to 21 of the EU's 27 countries and confirmed that 15 opposed the duties, while six supported them. The other six either declined to say or were unreachable.
France and Italy support De Gucht and say China's rapid rise in solar panel production - to more than total global demand - could not have happened without illegal state support. They blame Chinese overproduction for the loss of thousands of EU jobs in the sector.
The duties will deal a blow to Chinese solar companies such as Trina Solar Ltd, Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd. and Yingli Green Energy Holding Co. Ltd., and can be expected to drive up the price of their panels in Europe.
But countries such as Germany, Britain, Sweden and the Netherlands do not want duties on Chinese solar panels because they are worried about retaliation from China and being shut out of its lucrative markets.