Bridging the divide between China and the European Union has become a pressing matter for top diplomats. Wang Yi, China’s chief diplomat, recently called for the EU to provide greater clarity regarding the strategic partnership that binds these global powerhouses.
Building trust or back-pedalling?
In 2003, the European Union and China embarked on what was deemed a comprehensive strategic partnership, meant to bolster their ties beyond the realms of trade and investment.
This was envisioned as an alliance marked by synergy and cooperation. However, this dynamic has undergone a significant shift since 2019. The 27-member EU bloc has come to view China not just as an economic collaborator but as a rival.
The relationship has faced increased scrutiny following China’s strengthened ties with Russia, particularly in the wake of the recent invasion of Ukraine. EU leaders are now advocating for reduced dependence on China, a stark contrast to the initial vision of the partnership.
Wang Yi’s plea for clarity came amidst regional meetings in Jakarta. He emphasized the need for the EU and China to strengthen communication, build mutual trust, and deepen cooperation. He urged the EU not to waver in its commitment or encourage any regression in the relationship.
In a bid to assert its sovereignty, the EU is now exploring the fine line between de-risking and maintaining cooperation in areas of mutual interest such as climate change.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has previously expressed the need for Europe to de-risk economically and diplomatically due to China’s hardened stance.
Furthermore, the Commission is advocating for EU members to enforce stricter controls on exports and outflows of military-use technologies to nations marked as “countries of concern”.
This move, which can potentially affect China, is yet another indication of the changing dynamics of the EU-China relationship.
Wang Yi voiced his concern regarding this new direction. He warned against the politicization of economic matters and asserted that “de-risking” should not become a euphemism for “decoupling”.
He reiterated his belief that there is no fundamental conflict of interest between China and the EU.
A constructive dialogue on global security
Despite the complex dynamics at play, the dialogue between Wang Yi and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell was described as constructive and in-depth.
Wang reaffirmed China’s support for a balanced, effective, and sustainable European security structure. He also committed to promoting peace talks and playing a constructive role in resolving the Ukraine crisis.
Borrell, on his part, outlined the EU’s expectations regarding China’s potential role in ending Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and providing humanitarian aid.
The talks also touched upon maintaining stability in the Taiwan Strait, a topic of heightened geopolitical sensitivity.
As the EU and China navigate their changing dynamics, these conversations underscore the vital role of diplomatic dialogue in determining the course of their strategic partnership. The call for clarity from China sets the stage for the EU to reconsider the future of this strategic alliance.
While the exact outcome remains uncertain, the dialogue indicates that both parties are willing to engage in discussions that will shape the course of their relationship in an increasingly complex geopolitical landscape.