The EU-China meeting: An open conversation about rivalry

Dr. Yanka Ortel, Director of the Asia Program of the European Council on Foreign Relations (EDPS), was the first to comment on how the EU-China Summit took place today, according to the European position.

It was attended first by Prime Minister Li Keqiang and then by President Xi Jinping.

Statements after the EU-China summit made it clear that the meeting took place in a very cool atmosphere. There was little agreement between the two sides, and the conversation was far from in the spirit of “we continue as usual”, but rather an open exchange of views. Systemic rivalry is a new reality.

The EU leadership has made very clear its position and expectations regarding China’s approach to the war in Ukraine and China’s discriminatory practices towards Lithuania (due to the opening of an office in Taipei). But they also do not appear to have received any significant response or assurances from Beijing. The fact that Xi Jinping’s comments on the summit were published in the Chinese state media in the middle of the talks underscores that there was a limited desire to participate in a real conversation.

In a barely concealed threat, EU leaders said European companies were watching very closely how all countries were posing concerning the war in Ukraine. The mass withdrawal of Western companies from Russia should also serve as a warning to China.

In clear contrast to China’s insistence on Russia’s “legitimate security interest”, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasized “Russia’s unjustified aggression” and made it clear that China’s reputation in Europe is at stake.

The future of EU-China relations will be largely determined by China’s approach to the war in Ukraine. If China openly undermines the sanctions regime that has been imposed, there will be consequences. This is already very clear.

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