April 6, 2023
BEIJING – China is becoming an increasingly important player on the global stage. Speaking on the digital and single market of the European Union in the European Parliament recently, Margrethe Vestager, executive vice-president of the European Commission, said the world has changed over the past few years, and China has grown in global ambitions and is much different from what it was five years ago. The EU has changed as well, as has the United States, she said.
So what is the future of EU-China relations? It is difficult to predict. All will depend on the European Parliament election in 2024. But confrontation is not a choice.
Then there is a looming threat of a military clash between Beijing and Washington over the Taiwan question. The EU will choose the peaceful course of events to avoid further escalations. This is why the leaders are visiting China to find the common links and to encourage moves to defuse the tensions
The EU leaders’ summit in Brussels on March 23-24 showed a divided Europe when it comes to a China policy. While the EU leaders raised fears over closer Moscow-Beijing ties, they could not reach a consensus on whether the bloc should adopt a new approach toward China.
However, Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel called for continued engagement with Beijing to bring China closer to the EU. One EU official said that China is not perfect, but we might need it one day, and several member states share this assessment.
That has been confirmed by the visits of several EU leaders to China within a few days. Before the joint visit of French President Emmanuel Macron on April 5, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez paid a visit to China on March 31. Sanchez’s visit is also important because Spain takes over the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU from Sweden in July.
In addition, Josep Borrell, high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has reportedly said that he will visit China soon, albeit the date is yet to be finalized.
All the European leaders will discuss bilateral relations as well as China-EU relations with Chinese leaders, but more importantly, they may also discuss the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and the role China can play in possibly reaching a peace agreement or at least a cease-fire. Peace in Europe is the most important issue on the agenda for the EU.
Speaking at a press conference following the EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, Macron said he suggested to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that she accompany him to China so they could speak “with a unified voice”.
Macron said that he had also discussed the issue with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, adding that the two shared a common view. That is to engage with China to put pressure on Russia.
In February, Beijing published a 12-point proposal for the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis. Macron called such efforts positive. According to Borrell, the EU should welcome the peace plan, even if Western leaders do not consider Beijing’s initiative a full-fledged peace plan.
Chinese senior diplomat Wang Yi has said that China expects France and other European countries to play a part in pursuing political resolution.
Apart from the Russia-Ukraine conflict, trade and economy, climate change and other issues are also likely to be discussed by the Chinese and EU leaders. While the US has adopted a combative stance toward China, particularly in the field of technology, the EU is in favour of finding a balance between its economic ties with China and its political affinity with the US. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in her speech delivered on March 30 has called not for decoupling with China, but for de-risking of the relations while making them more transparent and predictable.
EU leaders have described China as a geopolitical foe, but they also acknowledge that they want to expand business relations with Beijing and are prepared to enhance strategic mutual trust and create new opportunities.
The stakes in the shifting geopolitical dynamics could hardly be higher for the EU, or the wider world, because the Ukraine conflict could escalate an all-out war involving NATO member states and Russia, which could pull in China too.
Then there is a looming threat of a military clash between Beijing and Washington over the Taiwan question. The EU will choose the peaceful course of events to avoid further escalations. This is why the leaders are visiting China to find the common links and to encourage moves to defuse the tensions.
The author is a former officer of the European Commission.
The views don’t necessarily reflect those of China Daily.