David McAllister MEP: Clarity and unity in policy on China
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David McAllister MEP: Clarity and unity in policy on China

Against the backdrop of China’s continued rise as a political and economic powerhouse on the world stage, MEPs discussed the need for a coherent strategy on the superpower.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell stressed the need for a united EU approach to China.

We cannot speak with one voice as there are multiple voices within the EU, but at least we need to be on the same wavelength, he said. Recalling that EU relations with China have worsened recently due to EU sanctions, difficulties with Lithuania and Chinese military exercises in the Strait of Taiwan, he stressed that although the EU and China are in rival mode the EU needs to keep talking to China. Due to its massive influence in the world, we cannot stop talking to it because it is not a democracy, Mr Borrell stressed. China is not Russia; it is a superpower that is growing, especially in the global south. When it comes to China, there are four areas of particular interest: EU values, economic security, Taiwan and Ukraine, he concluded.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that China’s rise as an international political and economic actor, as well as the EU’s own interests, make it all the more important for Europe to manage its relationship with Beijing. “And for me, that shows that decoupling is not viable, desirable or even practical for Europe. But there is clearly a need for Europe to work on de-risking some important and sensitive parts of our relationship.” Europe must carve out its own, distinct approach that also leaves space for cooperation with other partners too, she said. “And the starting point for this is the need to have a shared and very clear-eyed picture of the risks and the opportunities in our engagement with China.”

MEPs were united in their call for an effective, consistent and unified strategy on China. We cannot be confrontational, but our policy should be based on reciprocity, mutual respect and respect of international law, they said. The EU has to defend its economic interests and values. Some criticised the recent statement by French President Macron on Taiwan, deeming it naive to say Taiwan does not concern Europe. They also pointed out that the delivery of arms to Russia and changing the status quo on Taiwan are not acceptable for the EU. Against the backdrop of China’s oppression of the Uyghurs and other minorities in the Xinjiang region, some Members urged the EU to keep pushing Beijing to respect human rights, saying these rights are not an afterthought to the EU’s foreign policy, but rather constitute the core of it.