Another Cacophonic Meeting of the European Union, This Time on China

What could better epitomize the metaphor of an “ivory tower” than the meeting of EU Foreign Ministers near Stockholm on May 12, i.e., of a ruling class totally decoupled from their constituencies and the real world. The ministers did, in fact, meet in the brick tower of a 17th-century castle, and they had to relinquish any devices or means, such as smartphones, that could endanger the secrecy of their proceedings. It was, however, leaked that EU countries are divided on the new anti-China “non-paper” presented by EU foreign policy representative Josep Borrell.

To camouflage the split, he declared that “The 27 are united behind the music of this text”. According to Euractiv, the “non-paper” calls for “de-risking” and a “not-confrontational” approach to China, treating Beijing simultaneously as a partner, a competitor and a systemic rival, with the balance among the three being conditional on China’s response to the EU’s engagement.

In a separate, accompanying letter, Borrell says that future relationships will be based on values, economic security and strategic security, specifically emphasizing Ukraine and Taiwan. So, while the non-paper seems to soften previous, more hawkish approaches, it does contain a mechanism which authorizes confrontation.

Diplomats told Euractiv that there is a serious split among members on how to lay out the policy of “de-risking” with China. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis, who was in tune with Borrell, quipped: “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”.

In statements to journalists, reported the Financial Times, Borrell insisted that China has to use its influence on Russia to stop the war, before normal relations can be established. Brussels and Beijing represent two “very different,” competing systems, engaged in a global “battle of narratives,” and a “battle of offers” to the world, he said. “Our systems — our political and economic systems — are different, completely different. We are multi-party democracies; they are a single party. We are market economies, the Chinese economy is being driven by the state, so we are very different…. We are rivals, because we present our models to the rest of the world.” He forgot to mention that his model is failing, while that of the Chinese is successful.

Prior to the Stockholm meeting, EU representatives in Brussels met to discuss the sanctions on China contained in the 11th package of anti-Russia sanctions drafted by the EU Commission. According to the Financial Times, a list of seven Chinese companies are to be sanctioned for selling equipment to Russia that could be used in weapons. Bloomberg reports that a second part of the proposal would also punish those “countries” to which sanction-violating firms belong. Germany, backed by Italy, opposed that section.

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