Sunday

16th Jan 2022

Opinion

Today must be start of a new EU-China relationship

  • Europe's leaders Charles Michel (left) and Ursula von der Leyen (right) must make four priorities clear to Xi Jinping (top) (Photo: consilium.europa.eu)

Monday's (14 September) EU-China summit between China's leader Xi Jinping and the European trio of Angela Merkel, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel must be the start of a new EU-China strategy based on reciprocity, sovereignty and a stronger commitment to defend universal freedoms and the rule of law.

For too long we have defined our relationship with China solely on trade, in which Europe mainly regarded China as an interesting export market and low-cost producer.

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It is time to recognise that China is much more than that. It is a great civilisation that is awakening after having been in the shadows of the West for more than a century.

Since Deng Xiaoping opened up China at the end of the 1970s, it has quickly become the world's second biggest superpower.

The economic rise is astonishing. Not only did the Chinese leaders lift more than 800 million people out of poverty, in 2020 China is now the second-largest economy, it has the world's largest army and emits a quarter of humanity's emissions of global warming gases .

It is just the beginning. With its current growth levels, China is projected to become the world's largest economy, it will soon have the most innovative companies in the world's top twenty and its Belt and Road Initiative will make it one of the the biggest foreign investors in the world.

Xi Jinping's grand vision is to make China the world's dominant power in 2049, exactly hundred years after the People's Republic of China was born.

Europe should not follow Donald Trump's path in making an enemy out of China. Decoupling is not an option.

China and Europe's futures are too intertwined. We need to find a constructive way to work together to address the big global challenges It should be our goal to ensure that this new partnership respects our values, human rights and a rules-based multilateral world order.

Four priorities

Now, Europe's leaders must make four priorities clear to Xi Jinping.

First, Europe wants to have a constructive relationship in which we continue to enhance the positive cooperation on climate change, our joint efforts to safe the Iran nuclear deal and our joint UN peacekeeping missions to help assure world peace.

Second, a constructive trade relationship must be based on reciprocity. China must stop stalling the EU-China investment agreement that we have now been negotiating for more than seven years.

It must comply with the World Trade Organization rules, give European companies equal access to the Chinese market and stop dumping Chinese steel on the European market. Otherwise, it will force us to further expand protective measures against unfair Chinese trade practices.

Third, in a time that even the facemasks that we are wearing are produced in Uighur detention camps, the EU will not look away anymore from the human rights violations.

China must end it crackdown on Hong Kong, Xinjang and Tibet. Otherwise, the EU should support calls for a UN investigation into human rights violations in China.

It should also be clear that if nothing changes, the Chinese leaders of the crackdown will become subject to the future EU Magnitsky sanctions mechanism.

Four, a united and sovereign Europe will defend its key interests.

Before Chinese companies are allowed to build our critical 5G network all doubts about (industrial) espionage, privacy infringements and the possibility of Chinese cyberattacks must be cleared.

If not, Chinese companies should be excluded.

China's leaders are known for their tough negotiating skills. Merkel, Von der Leyen and Michel must do the same to be respected. It is the only way to build a solid basis for a constructive, future relationship.

Author bio

Hilde Vautmans MEP, from the Renew group, is the European Parliament's standing rapporteur on China.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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