French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen met Chinese President Xi Jinping.
swimming pool | News from Getty Images | Getty Images
Two of Europe’s biggest leaders are holding talks with China’s President Xi Jinping at a time when EU-China relations are at a serious crossroads.
On the one hand, some in Europe would like to develop closer economic ties with Beijing. On the other hand, others are increasingly worried about Beijing’s friendship with Russia.
“I am convinced that China has an important role to play in building peace. That’s what I want to discuss to move forward. We will also talk to President Xi Jinping about our companies, climate and biodiversity, and food security,” French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter shortly before meeting the Chinese leader.
“EU-China relations are extensive and complex. How we manage them will have an impact on the prosperity and security of the EU,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who is also in Beijing for talks with Xi.
China was the largest source of EU imports and the third largest buyer of EU goods in 2022, underscoring Beijing’s economic importance to Europe. This is particularly relevant when the EU’s economic growth is threatened by the ongoing war in Ukraine.
The 27-strong bloc is thus walking a tightrope, trying to forge economic ties with China while also reaffirming a close political and cultural relationship with the United States. That task has become particularly difficult as the US government is ramping up its anti-Beijing rhetoric — even more so in the wake of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine, which has made Europe even more dependent on the US for energy and security.
“Europe has come quite close to the position of the United States,” Niclas Poitiers, a research associate at Bruegel, told CNBC’s Squawk Box Europe on Monday, adding that Brussels wants to reduce dependence on China. The EU was heavily dependent on Russia for energy supplies and now wants to avoid similar mistakes in other parts of the world.
“Overall there is a consensus that we need to do something about our over-reliance on China and make sure they don’t blackmail small member states,” Poitiers said.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez met with Chinese President Xi Jinping last week. Europe’s top foreign policy diplomat, Josep Borrell, is also traveling to China next week.