Berlin/Brussels, March 30, 2023. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called for de-risking instead of decoupling EU-China relations in a speech delivered to the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS) and the European Policy Centre (EPC) in Brussels on Thursday.
Von der Leyen’s keynote address on the future of EU-China relations emphasized that China is changing and moving into “a new era of security and control,” which in turn requires changes in European China policy.
In response to China’s efforts at systemic change of the international system with itself at the center, Europe would need to strengthen the international system itself, von der Leyen said. However, diplomatic stability and open communication lines with China remained “vitally important.”
According to von der Leyen, decoupling from China is neither viable for nor in the interest of Europe. Instead, she laid out a course of diplomatic and economic de-risking.
Diplomatic de-risking should not shy away from raising “deeply concerning issues” with Chinese counterparts but create space for “a discussion on a more ambitious partnership and on how we can make competition fairer and more disciplined.”
De-risking of economic relations would include making the EU economy and industry more competitive and resilient, better using the existing EU toolbox of trade instruments, developing new defensive tools for critical sectors and seeking closer alignment with partners around the world.
Von der Leyen called for “strong coordination between Member States and EU institutions and a willingness to avoid the divide and conquer tactics that we know we may face.” Europe’s future relationship with China would not have to be a defensive one.
Von der Leyen also said that in “just 10 years, MERICS has developed a unique expertise in analyzing the political, economic and social trends in China and how these impact Europe and the world.”
The event was moderated by MERICS Executive Director Mikko Huotari and EPC Chief Executive Fabian Zuleeg. Huotari expects that “China will take this new strategy seriously”, but asserted that actions would need to follow – in particular from the member states. In his view, Europe should “match China’s ambitions” and define the EU-China relationship on its own terms as much as possible.
You can watch a recording of the event here.
The European Commission has published a transcript of the speech.
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