Ursula von der Leyen: ahead of China visit

Brussels 02.04.2023 “…Defining a European strategy towards China – defining what success looks like – must start with a sober assessment of our current relations and of China’s strategic intentions” said president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen on EU-China relations to the Mercator Institute for China Studies and the European Policy Centre in Brussels, ahead of her trip to China next week.

“Our relationship with China is far too important to be put at risk by failing to clearly set the terms of a healthy engagement. It is clear that our relations have become more distant and more difficult in the last few years. We have seen a very deliberate hardening of China’s overall strategic posture for some time.

“And it has now been matched by a ratcheting up of increasingly assertive actions. There was a stark reminder of that last week in Moscow during President Xi’s state visit”.

“Far from being put off by the atrocious and illegal invasion of Ukraine, President Xi is maintaining his ‘no-limits friendship’ with Putin. But there has been a change of dynamic in the relationship between China and Russia. It is clear from this visit that China sees Putin’s weakness as a way to increase its leverage over Russia. And it is clear that the power balance in that relationship – which for most of the last century favoured Russia – has now reversed.

“Most telling were President Xi’s parting words to Putin on the steps outside the Kremlin when he said: ‘Right now, there are changes, the likes of which we have not seen for 100 years. And we are the ones driving these changes together.’ As a permanent member of the Security Council, China has a responsibility to safeguard the principles and values that lie at the heart of the UN Charter. And China has a responsibility to play a constructive role in advancing a just peace. But that peace can only be just if it is based on upholding the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine. Ukraine will define the terms of a just peace that requires the withdrawal of invading troops. Any peace plan which would in effect consolidate Russian annexations is simply not a viable plan.

“We have to be frank on this point. How China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward. And of course, China itself has also taken a more assertive stance in its own neighbourhood. The show of military force in the South China Sea and East China Sea, and at the border with India, directly affect our partners and their legitimate interests. We also underscore the importance of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. Any weakening of regional stability in Asia, the fastest-growing region in the world, affects global security, the free flow of trade and our own interests in the region.

“The grave human rights violations occurring in Xinjiang are also a cause for great concern, as laid out in the recent report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“How China meets international obligation regarding human rights will be another test for how – and how much – we can cooperate with China. Just as China has been ramping up its military posture, it has also ramped up its policies of disinformation and economic and trade coercion. This is a deliberate policy targeting other countries to ensure they comply and conform. We saw it when China responded to the opening of a Taiwan office in Vilnius by taking retaliatory measures against Lithuania and other European companies. We have seen it with popular boycotts against clothing brands for speaking out on human rights or with sanctions against Members of the European Parliament, officials and academic institutions for their take on China’s actions.”

“That speech contained a lot of misrepresentation and misinterpretation of Chinese policies and the Chinese positions,” said to CGTN TV chain Fu Cong, China’s Ambassador to the European Union, reacting upon the speech, he added that he was “a little bit disappointed.

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