European Union leaders warned against a confrontation with China and a break in ties, but said they would defend their principles and independence in relations with Beijing.
During a summit in Brussels on Friday, the 27-nation bloc held three hours of strategic talks on its approach to China as President Xi Jinping tightens his grip on an increasingly assertive Beijing.
Torn between a desire to access China’s vast markets and condemnation of its rights abuses in the Xinjiang region, as well as aggressive policies in Hong Kong and Taiwan, the EU has struggled to form a cohesive stance on Beijing.
“This discussion showed a very clear desire to avoid being naive, but we also didn’t want to embark on a logic of systematic confrontation. [with China],” said summit host and EU Council President Charles Michel on Friday.
Michel insisted that the bloc has its “own model to develop” at a time of intensifying rivalry between China and the United States.
“We will always be firm in defending our principles, democracy, fundamental freedoms,” Michel said.
Since 2019, the EU officially considers China a partner, economic competitor and systemic rival.
An EU foreign policy document prepared for the summit said Beijing should now be thought of primarily as a competitor that is promoting “an alternative vision of the world order”.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Beijing was “continuing its mission to establish its dominance in East Asia and its influence globally”. She also warned of close ties between China and Russia despite international condemnation of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.
“These developments will affect the EU-China relationship,” von der Leyen said.
The EU is also committed to ensuring that it does not fall into the trap – as Russia did – of becoming dependent on China for critical raw materials and technologies.
“Obviously, we have to be very careful when it comes to dependencies. And we learned our lesson,” von der Leyen said.
Responding to comments from EU leaders, a spokesperson for China’s Mission to the EU said Friday that the “deeply ideological remarks” reflected the views of some people who “cling to the bloc’s political mindset, taking pride in their own values as the absolute truth and imposing their ideology unrestrainedly on others”.
“China… similarly opposes and urges everyone to be alert to the growing clamor for ideological confrontation, which could lead to clashes or even clashes between civilizations,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
China is committed to peace, friendship and cooperation with other countries and believes that “China and the EU are partners and not rivals, and that China-EU cooperation far outstrips our competition,” said the spokesman. voice.
— China EU Mission (@ChinaEUMission) October 21, 2022
The EU is trying to present a united front in China, but this has been overshadowed by the different economic interests of its members.
“We made strategic mistakes in the past with the sale of infrastructure to China,” said French President Emmanuel Macron, who called for a more balanced playing field between Beijing and the EU.
Olaf Scholz, leader of Germany, the bloc’s economic power, announced Friday after the summit that he would bring a German government delegation to China next month. It will be the first visit by an EU leader to the country since November 2019.
“There is great unanimity,” Scholz said. “No one is saying that we can no longer invest there, that we can no longer import from China.”
But other leaders were wary of Scholz’s upcoming visit.
“With China, it is the same as with Russia, it is in their interest that we are divided,” said Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas.
“It is in our interests that we are united and speak with one voice.”
The EU’s row over China comes as a top US general warned this week that Washington must be ready to respond to a possible invasion of Taiwan later this year.
Asked about the EU’s contingency plan related to a possible invasion of Taiwan, Michel refused to make any “prophecy in the military field”.
The EU strategy paper that was prepared for the summit urged member states to proactively warn China of “possible consequences” if it tries to take control of Taiwan by force.
Latvian Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins said it was important for the EU to also speak to China to ensure it is “on the right side of history” about Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“China is better treated when we are 27 years old, not when we are one-on-one against China,” he said.