On Thursday, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen warned China that its approach to Russia’s war in Ukraine would determine the future of EU-China ties.
She also stated that Europe was not interested in “decoupling” from Beijing. During her upcoming visit to Beijing with French President Emmanuel Macron, EU leaders plan to reach out to China’s Xi Jinping.
This visit comes after Xi showed solidarity with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow last week, despite the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
Von der Leyen criticized China’s stance on the conflict, stating that China has tried to position itself as a neutral mediator but has refused to condemn Moscow’s actions. The West has warned against any potential moves by China to send arms to Russia. Von der Leyen emphasized that any “viable” peace plan must be on Ukraine’s terms and not consolidate the Kremlin’s grip over the seized territories.
According to von der Leyen, how China continues to interact with Putin’s war with ukraine will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward.
The EU is trying to define its own approach to China as the United States pushes its European allies to adopt a tougher stance against China. While larger economic powers in Europe, such as France and Germany, are keen not to sever business ties, more hawkish eastern members are pushing for a stronger line.
New world order?
Von der Leyen stated that China, under Xi’s leadership, is becoming “more repressive at home and more assertive abroad,” and she believed that Beijing’s “clear goal is a systemic change of the international order with China at its centre.”
However, she insisted that it is vital to ensure diplomatic stability and keep communication lines open with China.
She stated that cutting economic, societal, political, and scientific ties with China is not viable, nor is it in Europe’s interest.
The head of the EU’s executive arm emphasized that raising deeply concerning issues with Beijing would not make them shy.
Still, she believed that space should be left for a discussion on a more ambitious partnership and how to make competition fairer and more disciplined.
Von der Leyen said that the EU is looking to “rebalance” its trade relationship with China based on transparency, predictability, and reciprocity.
This includes reassessing a landmark investment agreement that has remained stuck due to a stand-off over human rights sanctions. The EU is already seeking to reduce its dependence on China for key minerals like lithium, which are necessary for greener technology.
Von der Leyen said that the bloc is considering the need for “new defensive tools” in sensitive sectors like artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and robotics. She said that the EU executive will present initial ideas later in the year on possible restrictions on investments in China that could help enhance Beijing’s military might.
“We need to ensure that our companies’ capital, expertise, and knowledge do not contribute to enhancing the military and intelligence capabilities of those who are also systemic rivals,” she said.