The EU approaches China amid intense social protests and under the gaze of the US

It was mid October when Josep Borrell, head of European diplomacy, sparked controversy by comparing Europe to a garden and the rest of the world to a jungle. Many understood the metaphor as a reference to Russia and China. Just one month later, before the Strasbourg plenary session, the High Representative evoked “realism” to focus the relations with the Asian giant.

The relationship between Brussels and Beijing had become rare in recent months after the repression in Taiwan or against minorities such as the Uyghurs. But it ended up imploding with China’s ambiguous position —although closer to Russia— within the framework of the war in Ukraine. To all this has been added in recent weeks the consolidation of Xi Jinping as the most powerful leader since the Mao era. And in the last hours the most important protests that the country has experienced in the last thirty years have been added, when the massacre in Tiananmen Square took place. On this occasion, the Chinese population has risen up against the zero covid policy of the Xi government, which has responded with more vaccines and more repression against those who are calling for his resignation.

The Chinese population has risen up against the zero covid policy of the Xi government

The trip of Charles-Michel to the Chinese capital. The President of the European Council embarks on a visit that starts on Thursday and is almost more of a personal matter, but which has taken on different shades after the events of the last few hours. The Belgian hoped to give this high-level visit a blow on the table after the misgivings and power struggle unleashed with Borrell and, above all, with the president of the European Commission, with whom it is known that he does not have the best relationship .

Michel travels without them. But the important protests that the Asian country is experiencing position it in a complicated situation. Silencing them will unleash enormous criticism of the double standards of Europeans in terms of human rights. And talking about them publicly exposes him to live a tense moment, as Borrell already happened on his trip to the Kremlin in an uncomfortable press conference with Sergei Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister.

pragmatism vs. Firm hand

European countries, for their part, are divided on how to deal with relations with a very important business partner. The daily exchange between the two exceeds the barrier of 2,000 million dollars a day. An especially close link with Germany. A few days ago, the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself embarked on a visit to Beijing, which was frowned upon in other capitals such as Paris who advocate cooling the relationship with China.

In Brussels they assume that one of the most “challenging” challenges that Europeans have in the future is to deal with their relationship with China. The EU sees the Asian country as an essential partner in global issues such as climate change, but also as a competitor and systemic rival in the economic sphere. Closing this wartime squaring of the circle is one of the EU’s main geopolitical challenges in the coming years.

American pressure

The other variant of the equation is the United States. The current US Administration, led by Joe BidenAt the beginning of his term, he identified China as the greatest concern in the international arena. A doctrine that already began with Obama and was consolidated with Trump. After an astronomical and unstoppable growth, Washington feels the breath of Beijing to dethrone it as the main global economic power. In 2020, when the EU and the United States were going through the worst moments of their tariff war, China became the main trading partner of the Europeans. The pressure from the United States on Brussels to align with the postulates of the White House is not new, but it is redoubling against the background of the war in Ukraine.

The pressure from the United States on Brussels to align with the postulates of the White House is not new

The rotary influencer Financial Times It states that the US has been lobbying NATO allied countries for weeks to adopt more severe language against China and to draw up an action plan to curb its presence in the Indo-Pacific and other regions of the globe. A message that is getting through. At the Alliance summit held last June in Madrid, the allies put China at the center of their strategic compass for the first time, considering China’s military and technological growth a “systemic challenge” for the Alliance. Washington now wants to capitalize on the support it is giving Ukraine so that Europe returns this favor by adopting a more assertive position with its main rival.

For its part, the EU navigates the difficult balance of not getting bogged down in the fBeijing and Washington crossover game for global hegemony. And with the background pressure to develop strategic autonomy that allows it to disassociate itself from US tutelage to defend its own interests. Allied sources stress, however, that China is an “unfair competitor” in terms of access to its markets and that issues of human rights, the “hidden face of its technology” and its assertiveness create little room for trust.

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