EU chief urges leaders not to let China divide bloc

AFP , Tuesday 18 Apr 2023

EU chief Ursula von der Leyen urged the bloc's leaders to show unity in the face of China on Tuesday, one week after French President Emmanuel Macron stirred a fierce debate over ties with Beijing.

European Union
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks during a debate on the need for a coherent strategy for EU-China relations, as part of a plenary session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France, on April 18, 2023. AFP


Macron triggered a firestorm following a trip to China by asserting that Europe should not automatically follow US policy on Taiwan and should avoid "crises that aren't ours".

"A strong European China policy relies on strong coordination between member states and EU institutions and on the willingness to avoid divide and conquer tactics," von der Leyen, who accompanied Macron to Beijing, told MEPs.

"We have already in the recent days and weeks seen those tactics in action and it is now time for Europe to move to action too. Now is the time to demonstrate our collective will," she said, in an address to the European Parliament.

Von der Leyen reiterated her call for the 27-nation EU to reduce its dependance on an increasingly assertive Beijing for key resources, while not fully "de-coupling" its economy from China and its vast markets.

"On the issue of Taiwan. The EU's one China policy is long-standing," the head of the EU's executive arm said.

"We have consistently called for peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. And we stand strongly against any unilateral change of the status quo in particular, by the use of force".

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said "Taiwan is crucial for Europe" in part due to the important shipping routes and its role producing semiconductors.

"It's not just for moral, ethical reasons that we should reject any external interference in the affairs of Taiwan," he said.

He insisted European fleets needed to take part in freedom of navigation operations in the straits and said the bloc should be ready to "face down provocations no matter where they come".

"Well-tuned chorus"

Macron's comments drew sharp criticism from several of France's EU allies, especially nations in the east of the bloc that see the United States as their primary security guarantor in the face of China's ally Russia.

Borrell said the bloc's member states should try to get on the same "same wavelength" over Beijing.

"We can't speak with just one voice because of the multiplicity of voices that we have, but at least we could be a well-tuned chorus," he told the European Parliament.

Borrell said the bloc needed to find common ground on whether it wanted to forge its own independent voice in global affairs and how it should deal with China's stance on Russia's war in Ukraine.

European leaders have pushed Beijing to get its close ally Moscow to pull back, but there have been no concrete results from their diplomatic outreach.

"We all have our relations with China, but they can't develop normally if China doesn't use its influence with Russia to get it to withdraw its troops from Ukraine," Borrell said.

"Any neutrality which doesn't draw a distinction between the aggressor and the country aggressed is basically on the side of the aggressor," he said.

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