European officials are preparing for talks on how to deal with China after a series of controversial events.
swimming pool | News from Getty Images | Getty Images
China said on Monday it respects the independence of the former Soviet states after comments by its ambassador to France were deemed “unacceptable” in Europe.
It comes as the 27 members of the European Union are reassessing their diplomatic and economic ties with Beijing.
Lu Shaye, China’s ambassador to France, told French media on Friday that countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union do not have international status. A transcript containing the ambassador’s remarks was removed by the Chinese embassy Monday morning.
The comment sparked criticism in several European capitals, particularly in the Baltic states, which had seceded from the USSR after the USSR collapsed in 1991.
“We are not former Soviet countries. We are countries illegally occupied by the Soviet Union,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis told reporters in Luxembourg.
This opinion was echoed by Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna: “We are an independent country, a member of the EU, a member of NATO. I hope there will be an explanation.”
Czech Foreign Minister Jan Lipavsky also said in Luxembourg that the Chinese ambassador’s comments were “completely unacceptable”.
“We reject such a statement and hope that the bosses of this ambassador will clarify things,” Lipavsky said.
In this regard, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Ning said Monday, “China respects the status of the former Soviet republics as sovereign countries after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.”
This is just the latest in a series of controversial events between China and the European Union.
EU wants to “recalibrate” China strategy.
Returning from a visit to China earlier this month, French President Emmanuel Macron said the EU must have its own policy towards Taiwan and avoid following the US agenda on the matter. He later added that being an ally did not mean being a vassal, reinforcing the idea of independent EU politics.
Macron’s intervention was criticized in the US, but also in Germany and other European countries. Overall, some EU countries fear a clash with the United States, especially given its crucial role in security and defense.
Macron’s comments also revealed a rift within the EU over what kind of relationship the bloc wants with China. Some fear angering China and jeopardizing deep economic ties, while others favor the transatlantic alliance.
The issue will be debated at a meeting in June between the 27 heads of state, including Macron and Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
“We will reconsider and recalibrate our strategy towards China,” said top EU diplomat Josep Borrell on Monday.
However, this is likely to be a long and hard discussion and it remains to be seen if the bloc will come to an agreement on the matter.
In 2022, China was the largest source of EU imports and the third largest buyer of EU goods, underscoring Beijing’s economic importance to Europe. This is particularly relevant when EU economic growth is threatened by the ongoing war in Ukraine.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in March that China is a systemic rival, an economic competitor and a strategic partner. This then applies differently to different policies. For example, the EU believes that China can be a strategic partner on climate issues; But when it comes to providing market access, the bloc complains that Beijing is a competitor.
However, combining all these different dynamics could be difficult to achieve.
“Nurturing that relationship and having open and honest exchanges with our Chinese counterparts is an essential part of what I would call de-risking our relationship with China through diplomacy,” von der Leyen said ahead of a trip to Beijing.
“We will never be shy in addressing the deeply concerning issues that I have already outlined. But I believe we need to leave room for a discussion about a more ambitious partnership and how we can make the competition fairer and more disciplined,” she added.
Comments are closed.