China-EU: Reset 2.0


The fact that the Sino-European summit will be held on December 7–8 was reported last week by Bloomberg.

Since, as usual, it was made with reference to an anonymous source, the information did not look 100% certain. But a little later, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported that the head of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and EU President Charles Michel, who will visit Beijing, are expected to demand that Chinese President Xi Jinping moderate the pace of thirteen major Chinese companies that do not comply with anti-Russian sanctions. The prediction was made in advance: Xi would refuse. And then these companies would be included in the 12th package of European restrictions against Russia.

On December 4, the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that the China-EU summit would open in Beijing on December 7. At the same time, Wang Yi, Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission of the CPC and Chinese Foreign Minister, gathered EU ambassadors in Beijing for a “briefing” before this important event.

After repeating roughly what was said to Washington’s emissaries before the Xi and Biden meeting — the fate of the world, not just Europe, depends on PRC-EU relations — Wang Yi urged the partners to build relations on the basis of unconditional respect for each other. «In the face of complex situations and serious challenges, China and the EU should seek common ground even if differences persist, ‘follow the path of mutual benefit and win-win cooperation». «If China and Europe choose dialog and cooperation, there will be no confrontation of camps; if China and Europe choose peace and stability, there will be no new Cold War; if China and Europe choose a win-win approach, there will be hope for global development and prosperity». Let us not fall into confrontation, but, showing calmness and pragmatism, think globally, despite differences in views, and continue to negotiate. In other words, the European ambassadors were told that Beijing would not tolerate any pressure, as well as interference in relations with third countries, and that sanctions would be followed by a response. And so on and so forth, which we have already seen as outlining the initial positions for normal dialog.

Europe is no less interested than the US in normalizing relations with China. And, it seems, it does not want to lag behind its Washington patron in order not to finally lose the competition with the New World. So far, the total PRC-EU trade turnover exceeds the PRC-US trade volume, amounting to about $850 billion. But it could be otherwise, if we put immediate political interests above economic ones. Or, following the instructions from overseas and pressing for sanctions against Russia, it could destroy the cooperation so favorable to Europe.

But then the leaders of the united Europe got what they call a blow. True to his allied-militarist spirit, former NATO Secretary General Rasmussen urged the EU countries to «firmly define» Taiwan, i.e. to prepare to defend the island «to the last Taiwanese» against Beijing’s alleged aggression. In an article he published in the Financial Times, the former chief «defender» of Europe warned that to be soft in this matter would mean to give Taiwan “to be eaten” and cause irreparable damage to Europe’s interests. In the sense of betraying European «values», of course. The Taiwanese want to determine their own future, not under pressure from Beijing. Rasmussen was silent about Western pressure and the imposition of confrontational policies on the island. Only Lithuania and the Czech Republic are ready to «take Taiwan’s side». Besides, Europe is far away and can hardly help Taiwan. And no one is going to attack it, unless, of course, its politicians lose their heads and declare independence. But talks on this topic are coming up in connection with the approaching elections in Taiwan and the possible outcome of this story with the rebellious island.

Here, in fact, are a few topics that European leaders may propose to discuss in Beijing. Ukraine, of course, is also on this list. Wang Yi, for his part, said that the purpose of the meeting is to «deepen exchanges on strategic issues, China-EU relations, to point the way, outline an action plan, and increase confidence and motivation». As for Taiwan, his answer will be laconic: stay out of it, it’s none of your business. But on economic issues, the conversation will not be easy. There are many problems there. For example, the Europeans accuse Chinese car companies, which have rushed to the EU markets, of dumping, of allegedly using non-competitive methods — receiving state support. The EU has even launched an investigation into the matter and is preparing to introduce barrier duties to save its auto giants. China will not look at this in silence. A response may follow. And in order to pre-empt a customs war, it is quite possible to discuss this issue at the summit. The situation is similar in some other trade sectors.

Europe can be understood. Having lost their main trump card — cheap energy from Russia and having fallen for expensive American ones, the Europeans are simply losing the competition. The fact is that Chinese technology companies make their goods cheaper than European ones through the use of innovations and cheaper transportation. At high quality. China, for its part, is interested in the European market, in European investments and in normal relations in general. What to do in this case? This is also a matter of negotiations.

Over the past year, many European leaders have visited China and tried to negotiate with China individually and in pairs. But there have been no summits at this level for four years. It seems that the parties have decided that they are finally ready to cut sharp corners and reset relations.