EU must cut risks in ties with ‘hardening’ China – EU chief

By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – A hardening of China’s position from an era of reform and opening to one of security and control requires Europe to “de-risk” diplomatically and economically, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday.

Ahead of next week’s visit to China with French President Emmanuel Macron, von der Leyen delivered a sober assessment of Chinese policies, acknowledging that relations with Beijing have become “more distant and more difficult” in the last few years.

Given China’s economic size and global influence, the European Union’s management of this relationship would be a determining factor for EU economic prosperity and security, she said.

Von der Leyen said China, whose President Xi Jinping pledged closer ties with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin last week, bore responsibility for advancing a “just peace” to end the war in Ukraine that required the withdrawal of invading Russian forces.

“How China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward,” von der Leyen said in a speech in Brussels.

China, she said, was becoming more repressive at home and more assertive abroad, replacing an era of reform and opening with one of security and control, where companies in China were required to assist state intelligence-gathering operations.

Von der Leyen said it was not viable to decouple from China, but it was vital to focus on reducing the risks posed to Europe.

On the diplomatic front, this meant working with partners on global issues and reinforcing the existing international order and institutions rather than rival Chinese ones.

At the same time, Europe need to continue dialogue with China to raise difficult issue, but also to see how to cooperate in fields such as climate change and nature protection.

“This is part of the reason why I will be visiting Beijing together with President Macron,” she said.

Economically, the European Union needed to “rebalance” the relationship and reduce its reliance on China for key inputs, such as lithium and other critical minerals.

The EU, von der Leyen said, already had a range of measures to counter economic distortions and protect its security interests, but the bloc should also look at the high-tech it shared with a changing China.

The European Commission, she said, would present ideas later this year on measures to control outbound investments in certain sensitive technologies to ensure they do not enhance the military or intelligence capabilities of a systemic rival.

Since 2019, the European Union has officially regarded China as a partner, economic competitor and systemic rival.

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Alex Richardson)