Just as the EU has been gearing up to fortify its China policy, the European Council appeared to strike a more conciliatory tone on China at its meeting last Friday. The 27 EU leaders emphasized the need for “balanced engagement and reciprocity” in the Council’s conclusions, a stance appreciably different to that of the European Commission. Since March, the latter has pushed an assertive proposal for “de-risking” – limiting strategic dependencies, using the EU’s economic defenses more effectively, engaging in assertive dialogue – while remaining open to targeted cooperation with China.
In a nod to the Commission, the Council delivered the measured endorsement that the need to “de-risk and diversify where necessary and appropriate.” The Commission has framed de-risking as a response to Beijing “becoming more repressive at home and more assertive abroad” and the centerpiece of its proposed China policy. But the member states last Friday steered away from explicitly acknowledging just such a shift.
This shows the Commission still has its work cut out to secure the backing of European capitals and build a common front with consistent messaging towards China. EU High Representative Joseph Borrell has signaled updating the bloc’s China policy will be on the agenda of the July meeting of EU foreign ministers in the Foreign Affairs Council.
EU leaders at Friday’s meeting did show some appetite for an assertive approach to China. They called on Beijing to press Moscow to withdraw its troops from Ukraine “immediately, completely and unconditionally,” in the process pushing back on Beijing’s proposal for a “political settlement.” The Council also voiced the EU’s opposition to any unilateral change of the status quo on Taiwan, not only by force but also via coercion. This opens the possibility to call out Beijing on any interference towards Taipei.
MERICS analysis: “Given China’s intensified diplomatic outreach and hopes that Beijing’s desire for economic stability at home will make it more conciliatory, the Council may be trying to ease up on the rhetorical pressure. But for any new China policy to be credible, the EU will have to be assertive with China in the long run,” said Grzegorz Stec, MERICS Analyst. “The Commission is expected to conduct a risk assessment this fall that would be a litmus test and set the agenda of de-risking policy going forward. In the meantime, the EU should update its ten action points from its 2019 Strategic Outlook.”
More on the topic:
Media coverage and sources: