Firm but not confrontational. Systemic rivals but partners. The EU balances to define the strategy with which to deal with China. The matter was addressed this Friday by the foreign ministers of the 27 in an informal meeting in Stockholm to which the high representative, Josep Borrell, has brought a working document in which he establishes the main lines of the approach to the Asian giant in what it should be, according to that no paper, a “realistic, pragmatic and sustained” relationship. Now that text will undergo “perfections” to be analyzed in the last term by the leaders at the end of June.
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“They agree on the basic lines of the calibration of relations with China,” Borrell said after the discussion, which maintains the definition established in 2019: a partner to collaborate with, a difficult competitor and a systemic rival. “We have to engage with China on many fronts for different issues and at the same time we have to compete and reduce our dependencies when they are large and risky,” said Borrell, who has been lowering his tone for several days regarding the concept of “rival” and “competitor” by assuring that the United States is also a competitor to those who criticize Washington’s European following.
“Systemic rivalry can appear in almost all areas of engagement. But this should not dissuade the EU from keeping communication channels open and seeking constructive cooperation with China”, establishes that text, thus moving away from the disengagement strategy (decoupling) for which the United States is committed. The EU wants to have its own autonomous relationship with the Xi Jinping regime.
With the document, the 27 also seek to have a common approach to relations with China after there have been different tones in recent weeks in which there has been a parade of European leaders through Beijing.
What all the foreign ministers agree on is that it is necessary to have a risk minimization and collaboration strategy; such as the fight against climate change, which is the most repeated example. “It is high time that we have a more efficient and common policy because we see that from time to time we have different voices,” said Latvian Edgar Rinkevics. “We don’t want to disassociate ourselves, but we want to reduce our risks because they put our security at risk,” said Annalena Baerbock of Germany.
The most skeptical is the Lithuanian, Gabrielius Landsbergis, who has made a parallelism in the relationship with Russia. “We cannot make the same mistakes,” he has warned. I don’t see any lawyer for him. decoupling, I also did not hear about Russia; but someone has to spot the possibility of decouplingnot because we want it, but because the situation in the Taiwan Strait is changed by force and the reaction can lead to decoupling“, has added.
Precisely on Taiwan, the document prepared by the Foreign Action Service led by Borrell indicates that the EU has a “fundamental interest” in maintaining the status quo and the “reduction of tensions” between Washington and Beijing. This common position is intended to avoid distortions such as the one that occurred after French President Emmanuel Macron’s trip to China when he suggested in an interview that the 27 should stay out of it.
But one of the EU’s priorities is to reduce the dependence it currently has on China. Assuming that it cannot cut commercial ties (2.3 billion euros are moved a day), what worries Brussels is the imbalance in the relationship: the trade deficit “has tripled” in the last decade in favor of the Asian giant. In the last year it has increased by 58%, going from 250,000 million to 369,000 (2.3% of the GDP of the old continent).
“The EU has a window of opportunity to reduce risks and excessive dependencies in our relations,” the text states. The EU is embarking on this with initiatives to increase its capacities in issues such as critical raw materials or semiconductors.
What the document defended by Borrell makes clear, in any case, is that the good progress of relations with China will be contingent on its position regarding Ukraine. The EU presses for Beijing to exercise its influence over Vladimir Putin to end the invasion while it has not given a letter of nature to Xi Jinping’s peace proposal. “It is important that China understands that for us what happens in Ukraine is an existential threat,” said the head of European diplomacy.
The Chinese government’s special representative for Eurasian affairs, Li Hui, will visit Ukraine next Monday as part of a European tour that will also take him to Poland, France, Germany and Russia to “communicate with all parties on a political solution to the ‘crisis’ in Ukraine”, reports the EFE Agency.
The visit also comes as the EU has begun discussing the eleventh sanctions package for the invasion of Ukraine, which for the first time singles out Chinese companies that are providing technological instruments that Russia is using on the battlefield. “If we had a new Cold War, the results would be even more disastrous and seriously damage the relationship and cooperation between China and Europe and cast doubt on multilateralism,” Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang warned.