The European Union’s Chief Diplomat, Josep Borrell, emphasized during his recent visit to Beijing the importance of mutual respect and cooperation between the EU and China in both geopolitical matters and trade relations. The visit, which had been postponed twice, aimed to convey Brussels’ commitment to engaging with China as an equal partner.
Borrell stressed the significance of cooperation, stating, “Cooperation is very much important.” He underlined that the European Union takes its relationship with China very seriously and expects the same level of seriousness in return. He also expressed the desire for China to consider the EU independently, without comparing it to other nations.
One of the longstanding concerns of the 27-member European Union has been the perception that Beijing does not accord it the same level of attention and recognition as it does to the United States. Borrell highlighted this issue, stating, “Europe takes China very, very seriously,” and added, “We also expect to be considered not through the lens of our relationship with others, but in ourselves.”
The European Union has increasingly asserted itself as a geopolitical power, particularly since the conflict in Ukraine. Borrell emphasized the EU’s desire to engage with China on this new footing, stating, “Since the war in Ukraine, Europe has become a geopolitical power. We want to talk to China with this approach.” This signals a shift in the EU’s approach, emphasizing its role as a significant global player.
During his visit, Borrell engaged in discussions with Chinese officials on various pressing issues, including the crisis in Israel and Gaza. He also announced that his chief of staff, Enrique Mora, would visit Beijing the following week to continue discussions with Chinese officials on geopolitical matters.
One of the major points of contention in EU-China relations has been the substantial trade deficit the EU faces with China. Last year, the EU recorded a record $426 billion trade deficit with the world’s second-largest economy, which has strained their relationship. In response, Brussels initiated an investigation into whether tariffs should be imposed on Chinese electric vehicle (EV) imports, citing alleged state subsidies benefiting these imports.
Borrell clarified the EU’s stance on this matter, saying, “We have a lot of geopolitical issues to consider, but certainly this was discussed, and I told my Chinese counterpart that to launch an investigation is just to launch an investigation.” This statement underscores the EU’s commitment to addressing trade imbalances through appropriate channels.
During talks in Beijing the previous month, He Lifeng, China’s key economic figure, requested that EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis exercise restraint in using trade remedy measures. This request highlighted the importance of diplomatic discussions in resolving trade tensions between the two entities.
Additionally, the EU plans to initiate an anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese steelmakers, a move that has raised concerns in Beijing. China has also expressed objections to the EU’s proposed “carbon border adjustment mechanism,” which would impose tariffs of 20% to 35% on goods with a high carbon price, including steel and iron ore. These trade issues remain unresolved and continue to be a focal point of EU-China relations.
Despite these challenges, both the EU and China are planning a summit by the end of the year, and Borrell’s visit, along with other high-level EU visits in recent months, has paved the way for further dialogue and engagement between the two sides. The EU’s message is clear: it seeks a balanced and respectful partnership with China, acknowledging the evolving geopolitical landscape and addressing trade imbalances through diplomatic means.