EU seeks 'recalibration' of relations with China

European foreign ministers are trying to find common ground in Stockholm on Friday about a "reassessment" of relations with China. "The EU needs to be more united if we want to remain relevant to China's rise to power," said Josep Borrell, High Representative for European Foreign Policy.

The EU does not want to separate itself from China, an inescapable player in world politics and a trading partner with which they carry out trade worth 2.7 billion euros a day. Europeans want to reduce their dependence on China in crucial sectors and push Beijing to take a tougher stance on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

However, the member states do not always view China similarly. Some countries have more significant economic interests than others in addition to geopolitical differences. While some countries follow the hard US line, French president Emmanuel Macron recently warned that the EU should not get caught up in a conflict between Beijing and Washington, for example, over Taiwan.

Common policy

"The EU member states must be more united and act in accordance with a common policy," Borrell said before the informal meeting. Borrell, who recently called for an end to Europe's "cacophony" over China, presented ministers with a working document aiming for a "coherent strategy" towards Beijing.

"We are not the largest countries in the world, but the EU as a whole, in particular the European single market, obviously has a power that we should not underestimate (...) and which we should also self-consciously use," said German minister Annalena Baerbock. She does not want to "disconnect" from China, but believes that Europeans should learn from their experience with Russia that economic entanglement does not always lead to more security.

"It is not about economic sanctions, and the measures we are taking are not against states"

Borrell said it was already clear that "we cannot have a normal relationship with China if it does not use its strong influence over Russia to end the war". In Brussels, a proposal is on the table to take measures against eight Chinese companies accused of circumventing European sanctions and transiting high-tech goods from Europe to Russia. China threatens countermeasures.

“It is not about economic sanctions, and the measures we are taking are not against states,” Baerbock said. Borrell said that no decision has yet been made. That is up to the member states, which must decide unanimously.

Chinese Foreign minister Qin Gang, currently visiting Europe, warned from Norway on Friday of a new Cold War. “Some are blowing the democracy versus autocracy narrative out of proportion and even talking about a new Cold War,” he said. Such a Cold War would have a "disastrous outcome" and "seriously damage" relations between China and Europe.


Josep Borell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs © ATTA KENARE / AFP

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