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EU can play a vital role in easing China-US tensions

By Chen Weihua | | Updated: 2023-10-12 14:59
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European Union foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell's visit to China this week for the China-EU High-level Strategic Dialogue is a good opportunity to stabilize the relations between the two sides which has deteriorated in recent years largely due to the growing geopolitical tensions between Beijing and Washington.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict, which has no end in sight, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which erupted again on Saturday and has resulted in huge civilian casualties, are tragic reminders of the importance of peace. This is especially true for the EU given Europe's geographical proximity to both Ukraine and Israel.

The escalating migration crisis in the EU, which has contributed to rising popularism in some of the bloc's member states, can be partly attributed to the United States' and NATO's wars and military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria over the past more than two decades.

To end two ongoing conflicts, China has called for immediate cease-fire, and urged the disputing parties to resolve their differences through dialogue and diplomacy. The EU can play a positive role in this by working with China, as their interests are best served by restoring peace and maintaining stability in the regions.

There is widespread concern that the EU might get directly involved in the US-China disputes. But in helping defuse the tensions between Beijing and Washington, the EU needs to exercise strategic autonomy and be an honest broker between China and the US. And its aim should be to prevent the world from sliding into a new Cold War or, God forbid, a hot war.

As for Borrell, he should recall the horrible human suffering of Europeans during the Cold War, and sincerely work to prevent history from repeating.
If the EU plays such a role well, it will not only contribute to global peace, but also help establish itself as a pillar holding up a multipolar world, one in which developing countries of the Global South will have an equal say.

That, however, is no easy task. The EU's strategic autonomy has been under threat because of its excessive dependence on the US in matters of defense and the overwhelming influence of the US across Europe. The EU has often been coerced or cajoled by Washington when it comes to adopting a strategic policy toward China. Brussels' rhetoric on China has often mimicked those of the White House.

Borrell should also remember that China and the EU, including his home country, Spain, were far more different in the 1970s and 1980s when they established diplomatic ties with China than they are today. So exaggerating the differences like some EU politicians have been doing today is not conducive to improving China-EU relations.

After all, China and the EU have gained a lot from trade and investment, and collaboration in education and science and technology sectors, and fighting climate change together in the past decades despite the sharp differences in their political systems. Engagement and cooperation have always helped narrow and effectively manage the differences.

EU officials like to complain about trade and investment barriers "erected" by China, but the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, if implemented, could address some of the grievances of both sides and thus should be ratified by the EU as soon as possible. Not ratifying it could create a lose-lose situation. China, on the other hand, also has serious concerns about the growing protectionism in the EU.

Also, the EU should stop projecting its "Global Gateway" initiative as a counter to the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, which is improving infrastructure connectivity. Instead, it should join hands to share their practices, and help synergize the two initiatives to benefit the developing world.

The world is facing many unprecedented challenges. Close cooperation between China and the EU will help ensure a better future for our generation, as well as the future generations.

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.


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