EUROPE
EU foreign ministers back plan to reduce China dependencies

EU foreign ministers backed on Friday (12 May) a plan to reduce the EU’s economic dependence on China but, as the bloc’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said, will now have to figure out how to make that a reality.

Wary of leaks and security breaches after morning talks about Ukraine, ministers were bused off to a 17th-century castle near Stockholm, where they discussed – without phones or electronic devices – an EU position paper to adjust policy on China, as reported earlier by EURACTIV.

The plan is the latest attempt to strike a balance between the views of the EU’s 27 member states and keep a distinctive EU approach to China while preserving a close partnership with Washington, which is pushing for a harder line on Beijing.

The draft text was sent to member states only on Thursday evening after intense internal wrangling about its content.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Borrell said EU foreign ministers “welcomed the paper that we presented” and gave their broad backing to the plan, which foresees the bloc placing greater emphasis on China’s role as a geopolitical rival, as well as a partner on global issues and an economic competitor.

In a letter accompanying the discussion paper, Borrell said there were at least three reasons for “re-calibrating” China policy, relating to values, economic and strategic security.

“They agree on the basic lines of this re-calibration of our strategy on China,” Borrell said. “When a dependency is too big, it’s a risk,” he added.

Borrell said the EU had to learn from the “strategic mistake” it had made in the years before the war in Ukraine of becoming too dependent on Russian gas.

He also warned that the EU was today even more dependent on China, for key technologies such as solar panels and critical materials, than it had been on Russian energy.

“De-risking is just a word. But behind this word, there is a lot of work that will take time, to review all our economic relations with China,” he said.

Borrell stressed the aim was not to “de-couple” the European and Chinese economies but to rebalance the relationship.

“The 27 are united behind the music of this text,” Borrell told reporters near Stockholm. “I haven’t seen any concrete disagreement.”

However, after the meeting, several member states pushed back against the claim that EU foreign ministers are entirely on the same page.

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, leading the camp of China-wary Baltic states, warned that even if the EU did not want to de-couple from China economically, it needed to be prepared for such a scenario.

“I don’t hear any advocate for decoupling,” he told reporters before entering Friday’s talks.

“Somebody has to devise a possibility that a de-coupling might happen – not because we wished it, like with Russia, not because we willed it, but because the situation, for example in the Taiwan Strait, has been changed by force,” he added.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told reporters that “we as Europeans do not want de-coupling. We do not want a distraction. But we want to minimise our own risks that endanger our security”.

“We have to make that clear together here, we as Europeans can only speak with one voice,” she said before entering the meeting.

After the session, several EU diplomats pointed out that recalibrating the bloc’s China policy might take time.

“It is desirable to hear the EU27 choir singing in unison, but on this China paper, it seems that we are still a few octaves apart,” an EU senior diplomat told EURACTIV after the talks.

The text was “a good start” for further, more detailed discussions, one EU diplomat said but voiced doubt about a serious rewrite of the bloc’s China policy, considering the “diametrically opposed positions between China hawks and “the usual suspects” such as Hungary.

A second EU diplomat warned that “contrary to our relatively quick unity after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it could be a long-lived process”.

EU officials are expected to consolidate the proposal and incorporate member states’ concerns in order to present it to EU leaders at a summit in June, where China will be one of their main agenda items.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

Source: Euractiv.com

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