China is prepared to conduct talks on an investment pact with the European Union “at its own pace,” Beijing has said a day after it denied media reports that negotiations had stalled.

Beijing and the EU have negotiated the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment for six years. If the deal is signed, European companies will be granted greater access to the Chinese market.

China will “conduct talks at its own pace on the premise of safeguarding its security and developmental interests,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Friday.

The statement, however, may raise doubts about whether the agreement can be sealed by the end of this year, with an EU official saying last week that it was close and Germany – the biggest European exporter to China – actively supported the efforts. Berlin holds the EU presidency until the year-end.

On Thursday, Wang had denied that the negotiations were stuck after China allegedly made more demands on nuclear energy. “As I understand, talks are going smoothly,” he said.

Meanwhile, a senior Western diplomat in Beijing was quoted by Reuters as saying on Friday that China had asked Europe for “impossible things,” including access to energy, water treatment and other sensitive sectors. Beijing is also working slowly on ratification of international laws related to labor, the diplomat claimed.

Brussels has recently criticized China over alleged human rights issues in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, but Spain and the Netherlands voiced support for finalizing the investment agreement when their PMs talked by phone with China’s Premier Li Keqiang on Wednesday.

The Chinese Commerce Ministry signaled on Thursday night that Brussels also needed to consider Beijing’s concerns. “The China-EU investment agreement is aimed at providing more investment opportunities… for the two sides, but to reach it requires joint efforts and to meet each other halfway,” the ministry stressed.

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