Europe and the United States launch a dialogue on China in the middle of the electoral campaign

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The new forum will address the great challenges posed by Beijing’s growing strength for transatlantic relations

The European Union and the United States have decided to put aside some of their differences and create a dialogue forum to deal with the most uncomfortable player on the geopolitical board: China. This has been officially announced by the high representative for the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, and the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, after holding a telematic conversation late this Friday afternoon. The timidity of the forms in the announcement, without any pomp or great fuss, contrasts with the turning point that seems to mark in transatlantic ties, deteriorated after four years of Donald Trump’s presidency in the White House.

The official announcement comes just 10 days before the presidential elections in the United States and, while Washington is trying to sell the new dialogue forum as part of a common bloc that was born against China, the European Foreign Action Service (EEAS) they downplay and disassociate him from the Trump administration or the one to come, since he will start walking after the results and regardless of who is elected.

“The idea is to have a specific dialogue on the relationship with China to exchange views,” explains an EU official familiar with the proposal. The talks will be conducted by officials and experts from the US State Department and the European External Action Service. And the will of European diplomacy is to keep it on that discreet and daily plane, in an institutional dialogue “from ministry to ministry” away from politics. Even the press release issued after the conversation is aseptic. Both leaders, he says, “celebrate the beginning of this dialogue” that will address “the entire range of issues related to China.”

Actually, it is a proposal Borrell made to Pompeo during a virtual meeting in June. The American took the initiative coldly at first, but soon after, he unexpectedly turned it around and clung to it almost as if it were his own. “We should face this challenge together, just as we have faced so many others as transatlantic partners,” said the US Secretary of State in a debate at the German Marshall Fund, while launching a good handful of invectives against “the threat of the Chinese Communist Party “, The” provocative military actions “of the Asian giant, its legion of” human rights abuses “and its” predatory economic practices “, with which they force nations” to do business with Huawei, an arm of the Party’s vigilant state. Communist”.

The United States’ relations with China are in their lowest hours after a tariff battle began in 2018, with 5G technology in the spotlight. The “Chinese virus” pandemic, as President Trump calls it by digging into Beijing’s wound, has only increased the size of the fault.

The European initiative stems from a calmer vision of relations with the Asian superpower. For Brussels, Beijing is on the one hand a “systemic rival”, but at the same time a “strategic partner”, with which it is urgent to clear issues such as unfair competition, state subsidies to companies, or the lack of reciprocity in the regulation of investments. The forum’s proposal was born after the onslaught of the first wave of the pandemic that left naked the shame of a great European dependence on China. It also has a lot to do with what Borrell called “the Sinatra doctrine”, in honor of the famous My way: Brussels has to deal with Beijing “in its own way” if it wants to avoid being buried between the two geopolitical poles of the 21st century.

“The response of the EU, in their own way, it must be its own way that avoids an alignment with the US or China, “the senior representative recently wrote in a article of Foreign policy. “This doctrine would be based on two pillars: continue to cooperate with Beijing to respond to global challenges such as climate change, the fight against coronavirus, regional conflicts or the development of Africa, while strengthening the strategic sovereignty of the EU , protecting our technological economic sectors, key to having the necessary autonomy and promoting international European values ​​and interests ”.

“In relation to China, Brussels is clear that it does not want to be an appendage of Washington”, analyzes Guntram Wolff, director of the European Bruegel institute. But at the same time, he adds, both capitals “share concerns about Beijing that range from human rights access to your market through intellectual property “. China, furthermore, observes with concern the rapprochement between the two Atlantic shores and is not even clear that it will benefit from a victory for the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, on November 3. “Because there would be a greater alignment between the EU and the US on issues like climate change,” says Wolff.

In any case, while Trump has made the confrontation with China a cornerstone of his campaign, it is difficult for the EU to even establish a common position in dossiers as relevant as 5G, an issue that threatens to put unity and technological security at risk. of the Twenty-seven.

For Borrell, the new dialogue forum implies “intensifying coordination” and “sharing information” to face the challenge of China’s growing assertiveness in the world, he explains on his blog. The idea is to better understand the positions regarding Beijing and to synchronize the clocks between two blocs that “a priori” have greater affinity, united by democratic principles and a common history. And to create a space for conversation that avoids the torpedoing of its own interests, as has happened in the conflict between Airbus and Boeing: while the companies engaged in a long battle of multimillion dollar trade sanctions, China took the opportunity to continue subsidizing aircraft manufacturing .

Pompeo’s gestures also do not indicate that he sees the forum with the same eyes as Borrell. After officially announcing the opening of the dialogue channel with Europe, the American politician embarks this weekend on a tour that will take him, among other places, to India, to strengthen military ties with this rival power of China (they faced a few months in a border incident that caused fatalities, the first in 45 years); and also to Sri Lanka, where he will try to convince his government (one of the most benefited from the so-called New Silk Road, the star program of Chinese President Xi Jinping) to reduce its dependence and its large debt with Beijing.

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