Europe The EU: "China is trying to change the international order: it is becoming more repressive at home and more assertive abroad"

The relationship between Europe and China is too important to be jeopardized "by not clearly laying out the terms of a healthy compromise

Europe The EU: "China is trying to change the international order: it is becoming more repressive at home and more assertive abroad"

The relationship between Europe and China is too important to be jeopardized "by not clearly laying out the terms of a healthy compromise." It is a demographic, economic, military power, a nuclear power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Also a human rights violator who plays dirty by putting pressure on the weakest, but is destined to be one of the superpowers, or perhaps the only one, to set the course for the next century. But precisely for this reason, it is more important than ever to stand up, set limits and stand on the red lines, because then it may be too late. But without breaking relations or forcing a rupture "which is not viable, nor is it in the interest of Europe. Disengaging from China is not an option, our relations are not black or white, and our response cannot be either." That has been the message that the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has launched this Thursday, in one of the most anticipated, most anticipated and also most applauded speeches in recent times.

"China is trying to change the international order: it is becoming more repressive at home and more assertive abroad," warns the Commission, and if the EU wants to have a place on the international stage it must move quickly and cannot depend on the US. These days, the Spanish president, Pedro Sánchez, is in Beijing on the first European visit to the country after the meeting that Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin held in Moscow recently, and after the country's diplomatic efforts to offer a singular peace plan (Josep Borrell rightly says that it takes a huge intellectual effort to really consider it a plan for peace) between Russia and Ukraine. Next week, Von der Leyen herself and the French president, Emmanuel Macron, will travel there. And Brussels wants to lay the foundations so that there are no mistakes.

"Von der Leyen has delivered the speech on China that Europe has been waiting for. It is a clear and strong vision of the relationship that recognizes that China has changed and that Europe's response must change too, with a strategy of economic security at its core." says Noah Barkin, China expert at Rhodium Group.

The EU believes that China has changed and there is no going back. Its position has become more authoritarian internally and increasingly aggressive and dominant outside, from Taiwan to Africa via relations with Washington or threatening and punishing partners like Lithuania. Imprisoning Western citizens, spying with little concealment, going a little further every day, pushing the limits.

Von der Leyen's message, after China has been a side issue for the last decade and previous contacts have been very soft, desperately seeking not to offend or anger an actor they consider as vital as dangerous, is that this no longer worth "It is clear that our relations have become more distant and more difficult in recent years. We have seen a very deliberate hardening of China's overall strategic stance," the German said. "And now it has been accompanied by an increase in increasingly assertive action. There was a stark reminder of that last week in Moscow during President Xi's state visit. Far from being put off by the heinous and illegal invasion of Ukraine, the President Xi maintains his "unlimited friendship" with Putin," lamented the president.

The important thing is not so much the rhetoric as the message. Brussels assumes that there has been "a change in dynamics in the relationship between China and Russia. It is clear from this visit that China sees Putin's weakness as a way to increase its influence over Russia. And it is clear that The balance of power in that relationship, which for most of the last century favored Russia, has now been reversed." And that has monumental consequences for the international order and the balance of forces.

There are no errors or improvisation in Von der Leyen's words, they are measured to the millimeter. If China, as he puts it, "has turned the page on the era of 'reform and opening up' and is moving towards a new era of security and control," Europe must respond. Without fussing, without looking for a shock, but neither looking the other way, burying his head like an ostrich or turning the other cheek. "We can hope that there will be an effort to make China less dependent on the world and the world more dependent on China. In his report to the recent Party Congress, President Xi told the Chinese people to prepare for the fight (... ) the clear objective of the Chinese Communist Party is a systemic change in the international order with China at the center," von der Leyen warned.

Nothing that analysts have not been saying for decades, and a position that is still distant but closer to that of Washington, which pivoted before and is preparing for the clash at all levels. For this reason, the reaction here must cover all fronts. Reinforce the rules-based system, the free market, diplomacy and one-on-one dealings. "With all this in mind, our response must start by working to strengthen the international system itself," von der Leyen said. "We need to strengthen the institutions and systems in which countries can compete and cooperate, and from which they benefit. That is why it is vitally important that we ensure diplomatic stability and open communication with China. I believe that it is not feasible, nor is it redundant. it is in Europe's interest to disengage from China. Our relations are not black and white, and neither can our response. That is why we must focus on reducing risk, not disengaging, and this is part of the reason why soon I will visit Beijing together with President Macron."

Brussels has an offer of understanding, cooperation, collaboration, but it should be in other terms. China is not very interested because it is doing well that way. He has never been in a hurry, time seems to be playing in his favor, as well as demographic trends. She knows that Europe needs her in International Relations, in trade, for the fight against climate change or now to try to stop the war in Ukraine. She will say yes and no, smiling but not committing to anything, condemning the war but not seeking peace, demanding territorial integrity but reiterating her friendship with the aggressor.

"I think we need to make room for a discussion about a more ambitious partnership and about how we can make competition fairer and more disciplined. And more generally, we need to think about how we can productively work together in the global system in the future and in what challenges", said Von der Leyen in his applauded speech. "There are some islands of opportunity that we can build on." The theory, the new theory, is fine, but the practice is much more complicated.

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