Has growing US-Europe ties after the Ukraine crisis impacted EU interests in China?
The visit is a part of a noticeable push by Europe to maintain an even keel in their ties with China, which have been roiled by the events in Ukraine, issues relating to human rights in Xinjiang, and the pulls generated by the US-China tensions.Ursula von der Leyen was in Beijing at the invitation of President Macron and there was a sharp contrast in the way the Chinese handled their respective visits. While the French President got the full red-carpet treatment, von der Leyen was clearly given the cold shoulder. This was occasioned no doubt by the strong relationship that President Joe Biden has struck with von der Leyen since the beginning of the Ukraine conflict. For its part, China has been keen to engage Europe at a time when its ties with the United States (US) are hitting rock bottom and where there has been a marked suspicion of China’s actions in relation to the Ukraine crisis. Earlier this year, China’s top diplomat Wang Yi toured Europe, gave a speech at the Munich Security Conference where he presented China’s 12-point peace plan for Ukraine and sought to send a message to the US in the wake of the spy balloon issue. On the eve of her Beijing visit, von der Leyen gave a tough speech at a think tank criticising Xi for maintaining ties of friendship with Putin. Referring to the Chinese peace proposal, she added that any plan that did not address the annexation of Ukrainian territory was not viable. However, she accepted that decoupling was not a viable strategy for Europe, though there was a need for “diplomatic and economic de-risking.” And as part of this strategy, the EU should not hesitate to raise uncomfortable issues with the Chinese while, at the same time, adopting policies that would make the EU economy and industry more competitive and resilient. The two European leaders met President Xi bilaterally, as well as in a trilateral meeting on 6 April. Ahead of the meeting, standing alongside Xi, Macron said he was counting on China “to bring Russia back to reason and everyone back to the negotiating table,” on Ukraine. Following the meeting with Macron, Xi reaffirmed China’s commitment towards facilitating peace talks and a political settlement of the Ukraine crisis and said that China was ready to issue a joint call with France for the purpose. Significantly, his statement added that besides the need to protect civilians, “nuclear weapons must not be used, and nuclear war must not be fought.” In calling for the resumption of peace talks, the statement noted that they should “accommodate the legitimate security interests of all parties, seek political settlement and foster a balanced, effective and sustainable European security architecture.” A Chinese readout of the Xi-von der Leyen meeting saw Xi emphasising the role of the EU as a strategic force in the international situation. He said that “China and the EU should face up to differences, manage them and respect each other.” For her part, von der Leyen noted that there was a great deal of consensus between the two parties on issues like climate change and political settlement of regional disputes. She noted that the Europeans did not accept the notion of “decoupling” and hoped to restart their stalled dialogue with China.
There are concerns in some European circles that the grouping may be over-reacting and the result could impact EU interests in China. But on the other hand, the EU and the US have worked hard to put their differences aside and apply themselves unitedly to assist Ukraine.In the recent past, China has promoted the China and Central and Eastern European Countries (CEEC) grouping also known at various times as the 16+1 and the 17+1 grouping. But this has foundered over the Lithuanian issue, and now the Ukraine conflict where Chinese policy has generated considerable unease, especially in Eastern Europe. In all this, the issue for Europe is whether it has lost some of its strategic autonomy by drawing too close to the US since the Ukraine conflict. There are concerns in some European circles that the grouping may be over-reacting and the result could impact EU interests in China. But on the other hand, the EU and the US have worked hard to put their differences aside and apply themselves unitedly to assist Ukraine. While a revitalised NATO is dealing with the security front, the new US-EU Trade and Technology Council is seeking to create a new framework to promote digital infrastructure and connectivity, cooperation on emerging technologies, resilient semiconductor supply chains, and enhancing their security through export controls and investment screening.
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Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...Read More +