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9th Aug 2020

Borrell: EU doesn't need to choose between US and China

  • EU foregin affairs chief Josep Borrell said videoconferences have hampered talks with Turkey (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

The EU's foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said the EU does not need to choose between the US and China, but does need "strategic autonomy" to defend its interests.

"There is an increasing confrontation between China and the US. It is something that will frame tomorrow's world," Borrell told a group of journalists on Friday (29 May).

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"We have to keep a certain degree of autonomy in order to defend our interests," he said.

"The EU is not neutral in that confrontation. We share the same political system with the US and we don't want to embrace the political system of China," Borrell said, adding, however, that the EU had its own specific interests that were not the same as those of the US.

He said the EU did not want to interrupt its economic and trade relations with China, as the US did, and did not want to abandon multilateralism, especially when China wanted to take a bigger role in multilateral organisations.

"We don't have to choose [between the US and China]," he said, adding that "some people would like to push us to choose, but we don't have to choose, it has to be like Frank Sinatra's song, 'My way'".

"We have our own interests and we should be able to defend them," the Spanish politician stated.

Borrell said the need for "strategic autonomy" is "more understandable than ever", as the Covid-19 pandemic shed light on Europe's reliance on the global market, and China, for medical supplies.

"We have to have strategic autonomy on practical terms, it means being able to respond to a crisis by our own means and we don't have these means," he said, adding that this "requires political will", but that the EU had only advanced through crises.

His comment came as the EU's ability to assert itself as a global player was put to test by China's actions last week to override Hong Kong's semi-autonomous status.

On Friday, EU ministers discussed Hong Kong, and Borrell issued a statement on their behalf, saying the bloc has "grave concern" over China's recent step, "which are not in conformity with its international commitments" and "risks to seriously undermine the 'One Country Two Systems' principle".

The statement said China's actions further call into question its will to uphold its international commitments.

The bloc's top diplomat called the statement "very tough, saying it is "one of the strongest" ever delivered on China.

However, he said sanctions were only mentioned by one member state (according to EU diplomats, it was Sweden).

'Most pressing'

The prospects of talks with Turkey on migration have "not been very positive", partly because member states do not want to engage in negotiations on a deal until the Turkish drilling off Cyprus's shores does not stop, Borrell also said.

Borrell recalled, however, that relations with Turkey cannot be only about migration.

He said telling Turkey to stop migrants in exchange for financing is "not enough to built a sound and positive relationship" on visa, enlargement, energy, and geopolitics in Libya and Syria.

Taking a broad approach has been partly prevented by the videoconferences, that have taken over physical meetings due to the coronavirus pandemic, he added.

Borrell called the EU's relationship with Turkey the "most important", "most pressing" on the bloc's foreign affairs agenda.

He plans to take the issue of relations with Turkey to the meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers for guidance.

'We will see'

On another issue, where the EU's unified voice has been put to the test, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Borrell insisted the bloc would not recognise any change to the 1967 borders, unless the Israelis and the Palestinians both agreed to it.

On the possibility of Israel annexing parts of the West Bank, Borrell said "the EU would continue to strongly urge Israel not to take any steps in this direction".

"We are using all our influence as much as we can in order to try to deter that from happening, if this happens we will see," Borrell said.

He recalled that the bloc has been united on considering it a violation of international law, but that two member states - Hungary and Austria according to earlier reports - did not want to go further with possible consequences.

Borrell said he invited the new Israeli foreign minister Gabi Ashkenazi to the EU foreign affairs ministers' meeting to "explain his position".

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