(TibetanReview.net, Apr01’23) – Ahead of travelling to Beijing next week with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, has called on Europe to reassess its diplomatic and economic relations with China.
In a wide-ranging speech in Brussels, she said Europe needed to have “a clear-eyed picture on what the risks are”, noting that EU-China relations had become “more distant and more difficult” in recent years as China moved into “a new era of security and control” and ramped up “policies of disinformation and economic and trade coercion”, reported theguardian.com Mar 30.
Speaking to the European Policy Centre and the Mercator Institute for China Studies, which she has noted had been put on Beijing’s sanctions list in 2021, Von der Leyen has said the Chinese Communist party’s goals were “systemic change of the international order with China at its centre”, promoting an alternative vision “where individual rights are subordinated to national sovereignty” and “security and economy take prominence over political and civil rights”.
Describing China’s “grave human rights violations” in Xinjiang as a cause for great concern, she has added that the issue of human rights would be “another test for how – and how much – we can cooperate with China”.
On the other hand, she has said, it was not in the continent’s interest – worth €1.9bn a day in goods trade – to decouple from China.
So, our relations are not black or white – and our response cannot be either. This is why we need to focus on de-risking – not de-coupling,” she has emphasized.
Earlier, in 2019, the EU described China as simultaneously a “partner”, “economic competitor” and “systemic rival”. The report cited officials as saying that assessment remains valid.
However, Von der Leyen appeared to put more stress on the “systemic rival” part of the analysis, although she praised China’s role in recent international agreements to tackle the nature and climate crises, the report said.
Nevertheless, she has effectively laid to rest hopes – held by some in Brussels and Berlin – of reviving a stalled investment treaty with Beijing. After seven years of marathon talks, the comprehensive agreement on investment (CAI) between the EU and China was put on ice in 2021, after the two sides fell out over Beijing’s treatment of the Uyghurs.
Von der Leyen has said the world had changed since the deal had been negotiated. “We need to reassess CAI in light of our wider China strategy,” she has said, adding that there were areas where “trade and investment poses risks to our economic and national security”.
Her remarks have come as the commission was considering imposing restrictions on European hi-tech companies investing in China, if there was a risk that European capital and expertise could aid China’s military, affect human rights or European security.
She has urged EU member states, which have traditionally have been divided on China, to be bolder and faster in using existing investment and export controls and more assertive in enforcement.
The report also noted that in her note for the EU27, Von der Leyen had made it clear that China sees Russian President Vladimir “Putin’s weakness as a way to increase its leverage over Russia,” with President Xi undertaking a state visit to Moscow last week and his maintaining of a “no-limits friendship” with Russia.