- EU officials call for a new approach towards China, but their strategy is unlikely to please the US.
- EU nations have different views on dealing with China, with some favoring closer ties with the US while others fear endangering economic ties with China.
The European Union (EU) is calling for a new approach toward China, with the aim of defining its own strategy and principles in dealing with Beijing. This follows French President Emmanuel Macron's comments on Taiwan earlier this month, which sparked controversy in the US and some European nations. While the Biden administration has adopted a critical tone toward China and urged European nations to follow suit, some capitals favor a closer relationship with the US, while others are wary of antagonizing China and endangering deep economic ties.
The EU's relationship with China is too important to be defined solely by the US agenda, said Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, during a speech on Tuesday. Highlighting China's economic importance for Europe, von der Leyen said that the central part of the EU's future China strategy must be economic de-risking. This marks a stark difference from the American perspective, which advocates for complete dissociation from China, known as de-coupling. The EU's intention is to reduce and avoid risks, rather than complete disengagement from China.
China was the largest source of EU imports and the third-largest buyer of EU goods in 2022, according to Eurostat, and is particularly relevant when economic growth in the EU is vulnerable to the ongoing war in Ukraine. European leaders have also tried to forge closer relations with Beijing to prevent it from supporting Russia in the war with Ukraine. United States intelligence suggested China considered sending weapons and other ammunition to Russia.
The EU also sees dialogue with China as pivotal toward any substantial progress in bringing down CO2 emissions and tackling climate change. However, it is a tricky process, given the divided views of European nations on dealing with Beijing. Macron's comments on Taiwan were received with criticism in the US, Germany, and other European nations, highlighting the challenges in developing a united EU approach toward China.
EU's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, believes that while the EU is in rival mode with China, it needs to keep talking with Beijing. He cancelled a trip to China earlier this month after testing positive for Covid-19. Borrell stresses the need to recalibrate the EU's strategy toward China to rebalance the relationship on the basis of transparency, predictability, and reciprocity. While the US seeks to disengage from China, the EU aims to avoid risks and maintain ties with Beijing. This approach highlights the need for a distinct European strategy in dealing with China, which also leaves space for cooperation with other partners.