The Odd Couple Heads to Beijing

Ursula von der Leyen and Emmanuel Macron are in China from April 5 to 7. They make a strange couple indeed, one with an olive branch and the other one with a gun. But the difference may be only apparent, as the ideological bond between the two is well known (it was Macron who imposed Ursula as Commission President, bypassing Manfred Weber who had won the election).

However, while France sent a clear signal last week, by having its state owned company Total sign an LNG deal in yuans, Ursula von der Leyen gave her most inflammatory anti-China speech ever, in a March 30 address to a meeting cosponsored by the Mercator Institute for China Studies (Merics) and the European Policy Centre. The EU, she said, plans to reassess and “de-risk” relations with China, and make Beijing’s position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict a crucial part of future relations. “How China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward,” she threatened. She also called for “bolder” EU approaches to the world’s second economy, accusing China of becoming “more repressive at home and more assertive abroad”.

The Chinese government was not intimidated. The director general for European Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, Wang Lutong, tweeted on March 31: “The EU side talks a lot about de-risking recently. If there is any risk, it is the risk of linking trade with ideology and national security and creating bloc confrontation. China is ready to work with the EU side to reject decoupling and promote global prosperity.”

Judging from how well the EU and NATO countries have “de-risked” their banking systems over the past decade or so, while avoiding productive economic investments, the EU should expect as much success with its “de-risking” from a very productive China.

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