Sakellaropoulou trifft Wei Fenghe
MERICS Briefs
EU-China Weekly Review
5 min read

Defense cooperation + Foreign correspondents + Rare earths

Security dialogues – Europeans in Indo-Pacific and Chinese in Mediterranean

As France and Germany develop their defense cooperation with Indo-Pacific partners, China seeks endorsement from European partners.

What you need to know

  • On March 31, China’s Minister of Defense, Wei Fenghe, concluded a week-long European tour which took him to Hungary and Greece (EU and NATO member), North Macedonia (NATO member) and Serbia. The tour came in the context of increased French and German military presence in the Indo-Pacific and the EU’s work on a joint strategy towards the region.
  • Upcoming French and German security activity in the Indo-Pacific
    • Starting from April 12, two French warships will lead three-days joint military exercises with Quad partners – Australia, India, Japan and the United States – in the Indo-Pacific. The goal of the exercise dubbed “La Perouse” is to develop greater interoperability in crisis situations in the region.
    • On April 16, German and Japanese foreign affairs and defense ministers are expected to hold their first “2+2 dialogue” to discuss cooperation on a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.

Quick take

Beijing is displeased with European engagement with the Quad in the Indo-Pacific that may help the security framework to grow further. Wei’s tour certainly sent that message and it was likely planned to create an impression of disunity among EU member states on the security engagement with the Indo-Pacific and to suggest that China is in a position to engage the Mediterranean similarly as European actors do the Indo-Pacific. In any case, it is highly questionable whether the NATO countries visited by Wei would pursue any actions contradictory with the alliance’s hard objectives.

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EU-China row over harassment of foreign journalists in China

On March 23, Irish RTÉ News journalist, Yvonne Murray, and her husband BBC China Correspondent, John Sudworth, left Mainland China for Taiwan following alleged “months of personal attacks” by Chinese authorities over the stories the pair covered.

What you need to know

The incident sparked a diplomatic row between the EU and China.

  • March 31 - the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of China (FCCC) described the incident as indicative of a wider trend of deterioration of the reporting environment in China.
  • April 1 - Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson, Hua Chunying, labelled the FCCC an illegal organization and criticized the departure of the couple as a proof of their “guilty conscience” over producing “fake news or rumors” targeting China.
  • April 2 - the European External Action Service released a statement criticizing the expulsion of at least 18 journalists from China last year and China’s usage of intimidation tactics such as visa denial, surveillance or threats of legal action.
  • April 2 - Hua rebuked the statement as “deliberately confusing right and wrong” maintaining that journalists did “not report harassment to Chinese authorities” and that the expulsions were a response to the United States expulsion of over 60 Chinese correspondents.

Quick take

According to the last three annual FCCC reports, the deterioration of the journalistic environment in China poses a strategic problem. Without nuanced reporting by experienced foreign correspondents, there is a greater risk that the European public opinion and politicians will be introduced to a simplified and polarizing coverage of Chinese affairs. By attempting to control foreign narratives Beijing may be exacerbating the problem of insufficient mutual understanding.

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Greenland votes on fate of largest rare earths mining project outside of China

On April 6, Greenland, the autonomous territory of Denmark, voted in an election that centered around the future of the largest rare earths mining project outside of China.

What you need to know

  • Rare earths, 17 types of metals, are indispensable in production of multiple strategic products such as electric vehicle batteries, military tech or smartphones. China is the world’s leading provider of rare earth elements. The EU relies on China for 98 percent of its rare earths imports. A NATO report noted similar levels of import dependency on China among its members.
  • The rare earth mining project in Kuannersuit, South Greenland, has been in the works since 2007, when Australian firm Greenland Minerals began scouting for mineral deposits. The company’s largest shareholder – owning roughly 10 percent - is Chinese rare earths heavy-weight Shenghe Resources.
  • Greenland Minerals recently obtained an environmental protection plan for the Kuannersuit project and was on track to obtain the final governmental approval when the coalition government fell apart over the decision in February. Supporters of the project pointed at the fact that it could almost double Greenland’s budget, thereby limiting their dependence on Danish subsidies. Opponents criticized the potential environmental impact. The victory of the former opposition left green Inuit Ataqatigiit party that campaigned on shelving the project means that its future is uncertain.

Quick take

It is not a given that the Kuannersuit project would help the EU and like-minded countries to limit strategic dependence on China’s rare earths exports. The key challenge they face is a lack of processing capabilities rather than limited access to raw resources. Only a single processing facility is located outside of China – an Australian facility located in Malaysia. Without large-scale, strategic investments in developing such capabilities the EU and its partners will find it hard to provide an alternative to China’s integrated supply chain, which combines excavation and processing of rare earths with the production of goods using them.

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Author(s)
Grzegorz Stec
Grzegorz Stec
Analyst

EU-China relations; Central and Eastern Europe-China relations