Editorial of “World. “ Relations between the European Union (EU) and China have undoubtedly entered a new phase. The Twenty-Seven, long blinded by the greed for a gigantic market, have finally given up on easy compromises accompanied by undemanding rewards. The Europeans now want to put an end to the unfair practices of a trading partner they have learned to be wary of, and are ready to let them know.
Firmness vis-à-vis Beijing is an essential prerequisite to rebalance the relationship between the two blocs. The China-Europe summit, which brought together EU leaders and President Xi Jinping by videoconference on Monday 14 September, illustrated this new lucidity, at the same time as its limits, in the face of a China whose economic opening is long overdue and the signs of hardening on the question of human rights are accumulating.
Despite some technical progress and the signing of a commitment on the respect of geographical indications on a hundred agricultural products, the agreement on better access to the Chinese market has not yet been concluded. Progress has indeed been made on limiting technology transfers imposed on foreign firms in China, or on the transparency of Chinese public subsidies, but the reciprocity demanded by Europeans in the automobile and telecommunications sectors or the issue of industrial overcapacity remains outstanding.
However, the messages got through, showing China that European leaders, especially in Germany, ended up realizing the limits of their unbridled commercialism. The EU took an important step in 2019, calling China “Systemic rival”. The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting disaster for the image of Chinese power did the rest. Beijing’s lack of transparency on the origin of the virus, its manipulations by the World Health Organization and its crass propaganda in Europe, added to the trauma of the realization of the degree of dependence of Europe on it. from China for medical equipment, have shifted opinion.
The Europeans are paying today for their complacency and a certain naivety with regard to Beijing, at the same time as their disunity, each having, for too long, sought to pull the cover to him, starting with Germany. Once is not custom, they can also thank Donald Trump for alerting to the imbalances that China has never sought to eliminate.
Unfortunately, the American president did so in a warlike fashion and without seeking to coordinate his action with the Europeans, depriving himself of transatlantic cooperation which would undoubtedly have been beneficial to all. Deprived of the support of their historic ally engaged in a dangerous escalation with Beijing, the Twenty-Seven must find their own way to defend their interests, while continuing to remain faithful to their values. EU leaders on Monday asked the Chinese president for access to independent observers in Xinjiang and reiterated their concern over the violation of freedoms in Hong Kong.
These requests remain lip service, and Beijing has let it be known that there is no question of being dictated to its behavior. However, China realizes that it will now be necessary to reckon with a more demanding interlocutor. While the United States threatens to instigate a cold war and to decouple its economy from that of China, Xi Jinping would be wrong to neglect the hand extended by Europe, even if the latter is showing firmer.