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EU-China Summit Goes Nowhere And Frustrates Beijing’s Plans

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EU-China Summit Goes Nowhere And Frustrates Beijing’s Plans

Authored by Milton Ezrati via The Epoch Times,

China and the European Union (EU) recently held their first in-person summit since 2019. The tone in 2023 certainly points to the difference four years can make.

In place of the friendliness and calls for cooperation that emerged in 2019, recent meetings contained much tension and accusations. If Beijing had hoped to drive a wedge between Washington and Brussels at this summit, it failed. On the contrary, the meetings showed that Europe is pretty much in line with Washington’s approach to China.

Any memories of the earlier gathering reveal how much things have changed. Four years ago, the meetings, replete with smiling photo opportunities, produced a 3,000-word joint statement full of promises for Sino–European cooperation on matters like steel overcapacity. There was also talk of the joint development of 5G and efforts to ease tensions in the South and East China Seas.

In 2019, Brussels and Beijing both intoned support for the Minsk Accords to negotiate the differences between Russia and Ukraine and, more generally, to work together to secure human rights around the world, including in the Xinjiang region of China. Especially since just before the 2019 summit, the EU had designated China as a “systemic rival,” the friendly nature of that summit was taken as a strong signal of continued amity and cooperation.

Compared with the tone of this recent summit, the language from 2019 sounds as if it comes from a different world. This year had none of the smiling photo opportunities of all participants. The gathering was much smaller than in the past, consisting of only four key players: China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, Chinese Premier Li Qiang, EU European Council President Charles Michel, and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. While Xi referred to the EU as a “key partner” in trade and technological cooperation and asserted that the parties had no need to view each other as “rivals,” the Europeans pressed a considerable list of troubling economic and diplomatic issues.

Even before the meetings began, the EU had already sanctioned China over alleged abuses in Xinjiang and further announced an investigation into Beijing’s subsidies for electric vehicle production, something that could lead to the imposition of tariffs. Germany, the biggest economy in the EU by far, had moved toward expelling the Chinese company Huawei from its 5G network.

At the summit, Ms. von der Leyen dwelt on how Europe’s trade deficit with China has doubled in just the last two years to the equivalent of $400 billion. She blamed the flood of red ink on Beijing’s practices of limiting market access to foreign companies, giving preferential treatment to domestic operations, and, in some cases, how overcapacities in China have undercut European companies. She sounded almost a perfect echo of Washington’s complaints in 2018, when the Trump administration began to impose tariffs on Chinese goods, and still complains of today. Like Washington, she spoke of Europe’s need to de-emphasize China trade, though she used the word “de-risk,” whereas Washington used the word “de-couple.”

Rather than promote amity, the Europeans went beyond trade to more sensitive diplomatic matters. Both Mr. Michel and Ms. von der Leyen pressed Xi to use his influence on Russian President Vladimir Putin to bring a quick diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine. They each warned of “irreparable damage to EU–China ties” should Beijing arm Russia in that conflict or help Russia evade sanctions. They brought up human rights abuses against the Uyghurs and warned the two Chinese leaders against using force with Taiwan. Xi spoke of cooperation between his Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and Europe’s parallel plan, called Global Gateway. The Europeans remained cool, no doubt, because their plan was put into effect precisely as an alternative to China’s BRI.

If Beijing had hoped to blunt Washington’s strident approach to China by creating a friendlier Europe, it failed. The Europeans showed themselves as suspicious of Beijing’s ambitions as Washington. They echoed many of Washington’s trade and investment complaints and accusations and used even stronger language about human rights and Taiwan. The summit failed to reveal Western division, as Beijing no doubt hoped it would, and instead produced an image of common Western hostility, if not unity.

Tyler Durden Tue, 12/19/2023 – 02:00

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