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Von der Leyen outlines EU's position on China

Published March 30, 2023last updated March 30, 2023

Ahead of her first official visit to Beijing, the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen addressed Europe's fraught relationship with China.

resident of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen delivers a keynote address on EU-China relations
The European Commission President will join French President Emmanuel Macron during his upcoming trip to ChinaImage: VALERIA MONGELLI/AFP/Getty Images

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen outlined her vision for the future of EU-China relations at a speech in Brussels on Thursday.

"It is clear that our relations have become more distant and more difficult in the last few years," she said, but added, "I believe it is neither viable or in Europe's interest to de-couple from China."

Von der Leyen: 'Our relationship with China is far too important to be put at risk'

In the speech at the European Policy Centre and Mercator Institute for China Studies, ahead of a trip with French President Emmanuel Macron to China next week, von der Leyen said Europe should rather "de-risk" its relationship with China. 

Tensions between the EU and Beijing significantly worsened over a host of issues, including the Taiwan question, China's repression of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, and the EU's WTO dispute with China over its trade restrictions against member state Lithuania.

"These escalatory actions point to a China that is becoming more repressive at home and more assertive abroad," von der Leyen said.

There is also concern over Beijing's refusal to condemn Russia's war in Ukraine and its close ties to Moscow.

"We have to be frank on this point. How China continues to interact with Putin's war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward," von der Leyen said.

Von der Leyen: 'How China interacts with Putin's war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations'

EU's reluctance to turn its back on China

More pressing for Brussels would also be the difference with the United States on how to address China's growing economic power and military might.

US President Joe Biden's administration has been trying to persuade the EU and its members to work together to confront China.

However, von der Leyen, was clear, "we do not want to cut economic, societal, political and scientific ties."

Instead, she said the focus should be on ensuring trade and investment relations promoting prosperity in China and in the EU.

The European Commission would, however, present ideas later this year on measures that could control outbound investment to prevent certain sensitive technologies from going to China.

"This would relate to a small number of sensitive technologies where investment can lead to the development of military capabilities that pose risks to national security," von der Leyen said.

European leaders head to Beijing

French President Emmanuel Macron said Friday that von der Leyen would accompany him on an upcoming visit to China.

After a summit of EU leaders in Brussels, Macron said he had asked von der Leyen to come with him for part of the trip to present a "united voice" to China.

It would be von der Leyen's first visit to Beijing as Commission president.

"We must collectively show that our democratic system, our values, our open economy can deliver prosperity and security for people. And at the same time, we must always be ready to talk and work with those who see the world differently," von der Leyen said. 

The  European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said he would visit China soon, although the date of the trip is still to be finalized.

The president of the European Council, Charles Michel, was in Beijing in December.

lo/sms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)