NEW DELHI: Is the EU, the world’s premier trade and soft power, taking a reality check on China?
Calling for a more united approach from 27 EU states to an authoritarian and assertive China, Josep Borrell, EU’s High Representative for foreign and security policy, said in his blog and in an interview to German media, “China is increasingly asserting itself on the international scene … the coronavirus pandemic has accentuated this. It has become more assertive – some even say aggressive – in its neighbourhood, especially in the South China Sea or on the border with India. Also, Chinese leaders did not hesitate to leave aside international commitments with the imposition of the Hong Kong National Security Law.”
Writing in his blog, Borrell called for a more coordinated approach to China between the EU, US and other democratic powers like India. “It is important to have strong cooperation with like-minded democracies. The EU and US should be at the heart of this effort, but we should also be working closely with Japan, India, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and others.”
The growing disquiet about China that is being felt in key countries in the world have introduced a churn in Europe which has benefitted from a profitable trading relationship with China — while China has acquired European technology and expertise, the old continent has felt energised by China’s manufacturing and its massive market.
That is changing, but EU is nowhere close to a concerted view on how to deal with China. Borrell was fairly critical of the way EU’s biggest economy, Germany, was reacting — in an interview to German media Der Spiegel, this week, he said, slightly scornfully, “The Germans hoped that with increasing trade a middle class would emerge, which would then demand and implement political reforms. That has not happened.” This week, Germany took a step forward, cancelling the extradition treaty with HongKong, after China cleared the national security law.
Arguing for much deeper change of approach to China, Borrell observed in his blog, “China has undoubtedly become more powerful, but also somewhat friendless. People respect China, but many also fear it, as it uses economic coercion. As a result, the idea of a mighty, benevolent power is fading.”
EU, he said in an interview , needs to rethink its “unanimity” rule which makes it more difficult to find solutions to big problems. Pondering steps to deal with China, Borell said, “We can consider measures such as extending visas for Hong Kong citizens, restricting student exchanges with China, banning exports of tear gas.”
China he said in the Der Spiegel interview, did not just become an authoritarian power. “We are not just discovering today that China is a communist country with an authoritarian regime. What is new is that Beijing now sees itself as a world power and is acting as such. This results in a power struggle with the USA. And the West was naive with regard to China; we thought that with increasing trade there would be change.”
Ultimately, Borrell said, the fundamental difference lay in the fact that in the democratic world “elections determine who holds power. That is not the case in China.”

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