EU mulls review of China policy, again
Foreign policy chief Borrell to present report after the summer, following conclusion in April that no update was needed.
The European Union’s executive and diplomatic arms are preparing a report reviewing its relationship with China, according to the bloc’s foreign policy chief.
Josep Borrell’s revelation is a surprise as this will be the second time this year that the European Commission and Borrell carry out such an exercise, after concluding in April that there’s no need to update the EU’s China strategy, adopted in 2019.
Two senior EU diplomats said the bloc has been under pressure from Beijing — as well as some member countries — to remove its description of China as a systemic rival, though Borrell did not say if this would be part of his consideration.
It is also understood that the EU’s diplomatic branch is keen to revive the once-annual EU-China summit, halted during the pandemic, which would feature heads of the European Council and Commission, and Premier Li Keqiang, China’s No. 2 official. But Beijing has so far refused to meet the EU’s precondition of restarting a human rights dialogue.
“After the summer, I will present a report, together with the [European] Commission, to the European Council, analyzing our relationship with China to see if it is necessary to review the current strategy,” Borrell told Spanish newspaper El Pais, which published his interview on Thursday.
A senior EU official said the planned document would be “some sort of an implementation report” modeled on the 2019 document — referring to China simultaneously as a partner, an economic competitor and a systemic rival. The goal is to present it to EU national leaders ahead of the Council meeting in October.
The official added that there is a need to “generate some unity” as EU member countries have started contacting high-ranking Chinese officials on a bilateral basis over the last few months. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, for instance, held a virtual meeting with President Xi Jinping in early July.
Other EU countries, most notably Lithuania, have been calling for a tougher stance on China in the face of human rights violations. Borrell seemed to have shot down such an approach.
“Despite our different views over the Hong Kong or the Uyghur cases, what [former U.S. President Donald] Trump called the economic decoupling with China is something beyond our intentions and is contrary to our interests,” said Borrell, who last met his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Uzbekistan earlier this month.
The 27 EU leaders are expected to discuss China during an informal gathering in Slovenia — currently the country holding the Council presidency — in early September.
Over the last year, the EU has adopted a tougher line on China, taking the unprecedented move to impose sanctions on Chinese officials involved in Xinjiang’s mass internment policy and to work with the U.S. on selective policies, such as confronting China’s Belt and Road initiative.
Sarah Anne Aarup contributed reporting.