- Because Beijing's share of world trade has climbed to 19 percent, many politicians and entrepreneurs shied away from criticism for a long time.
- In a "Joint Communication" by the European Commission, which receives a lot of praise in Brussels, China is now clearly called a "system rival".
- Reinhard Bütikofer, China expert for the Greens in the European Parliament, says: "The time of naivety is over."
- The EU wants to reduce its own weaknesses by means of several measures – for example, by making foreign direct investment more relevant to safety.
The decisive word is already on the first page. China, according to the EU Commission in a new paper, is not only a co-operation partner for Europe in the fight against climate change and economic competitor, but also a "system rival", which promotes "alternative governance models". Translated into ordinary language, this means that Beijing is working to promote its autocratic government system as an alternative to liberal democracy worldwide and has no interest in a strong EU.
For months, experts from the Commission and the European External Action Service had reviewed relations with China to revise their strategy. Eleven pages comprise the "Joint Communication", which is very well received in Brussels. She describes a "highly successful" EU senior diplomat as praising the "unexpected clarity".
Because Beijing's share of world trade has climbed to 19 percent and goods worth more than a billion euros go back and forth between the EU and China every day, many politicians and entrepreneurs have long shied away from criticism. The EU shows "significantly more maturity and more self-confidence," says Lucrezia Poggetti from the Berlin Merics Institute. "The time of naivety is over", rejoices the Green MEP Reinhard Bütikofer. On April 9, the EU-China summit will take place in Brussels. The time until then could be crucial to lay the groundwork for a more realistic approach to China.
On Monday, EU foreign ministers will be talking about the paper for two hours. At the Summit of Heads of State and Government at the end of the week, the China debate should actually play a central role. Now Brexit has whirled the plans, but EU diplomats assure that China needs to be talked about: "This discussion is not a pause filler, but overdue for years."
Three appeals are directed to Beijing to become more active internationally
There are plenty of topics: The trade war between the US and China, the EU's key business partners, continues to rage, and the EU members are in disagreement over the Huawei Group and 5G mobile networks. The position of the Commission is clear. "Protecting against potential serious implications for the security of critical digital infrastructures requires a common EU approach to the security of 5G networks," says one proposal.
The ten measures outlined in the Joint Communication are as ambitious as they are balanced: Three appeals are directed to Beijing to become more active internationally – for example, in climate protection or in the preservation of the nuclear agreement with Iran. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China should do more to guarantee peace and security, development and the protection of human rights. The fact that the human rights situation in China has been deteriorating for years is clearly stated by the EU Commission. The message to Beijing is: Where there are common interests and you stick to the rules, we are partners.
The remaining measures mercilessly promote the weaknesses of the EU, the Commission wants to close the "gaps in EU law" as soon as possible. While China often denies or impedes access to its own market for European companies, the EU has opened up for companies that are state-owned or benefit from subsidies. "We will determine by the end of 2019 how to eliminate the distorting effects of foreign state investments," says Jyrki Katainen, Vice President of the European Commission. For tenders and procurement, more attention should be paid to reciprocity.