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Radio Free Asia

EU to Review China Strategy at Forthcoming Council Meeting: Borell

By Yitong Wu and Chingman 2021-07-30 -- The European Union is reconsidering its relationship with China amid growing concerns over human rights and online security, according to the bloc's foreign policy chief.

"The European Union will always be closer to Washington than to Beijing, we will always be closer to a country that has the same political system as ours, a market economy, a multi-party democracy with concurrence in elections, than a single-party country," Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs, told journalists in Spain.

"Which is not to say that we have to systematically align ourselves with Washington's positions on Beijing ... we need to find our own position," he said.

"At the turn of the summer I will present a report to the European Council together with the Commission analyzing our relationship with China, to see if it is necessary to review the current strategy."

But he said he wouldn't be recommending a Trump-style "economic disconnect" with China.

"Regardless of whether we have very different views on the Hong Kong or the Uyghur cases, [that] is something that is beyond our intentions and contrary to our interests," he said in comments reported by the Catalan newspaper El Periodico.

French commentator Wang Longmeng said the Chinese government would likely continue to use economic incentives to woo the E.U., which has been criticized by rights groups over its limp response to human rights violations in Xinjiang and Hong Kong.

But he said the E.U. would be increasingly locked in to defending its core values alongside its allies.

"[The relationship with] China touches on the core values and interests of the United States and Europe, with regard to human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang, and the theft of intellectual property," Wang said.

"The European Union and the United States have basically developed a preference for containing China, and the E.U. won't be able to change its position as a competitor with China," he said.

Call for tougher sanctions

German commentator Cheng Shi-kuang called on the E.U. to take tougher sanctions against the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)'s human rights violations and its infiltration into Europe.

"One is a totalitarian regime, and the other democratic," Cheng said. "The EU's current position is just to keep a distance from the CCP and not to sing from the same hymn sheet."

"But that is not enough. If the EU maintains such a non-vigilant attitude towards China, then the CCP will succeed," he said. "If you really want to decouple, you must fight back, and you will have to resort to substantive sanctions."

"These people have already invaded; they have come to you ... and yet the leaders in France and Germany just talk," he said. "This doesn't deal with the issue of Beijing extending its reach overseas and infiltrating other countries."

The mass arrests of Hong Kong opposition politicians and activists under China's draconian national security law sparked calls on the European Parliament in January to reject a controversial investment pact recently agreed, but yet to be signed, between the EU and Beijing.

China and the European Union wrapped up negotiations on the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI) at the end of 2020, amid criticism that the the deal would give Beijing a free pass on human rights and labor standards.

Ransomware attacks

Borell's comments came after the Biden administration and Western allies formally blamed China on for a massive hack of Microsoft Exchange email server software, saying that criminal hackers associated with the Chinese government have carried out ransomware and other illicit cyber operations.

The threats listed by U.S. officials on July included a ransomware attack from government-affiliated hackers that targeted victims with demands for millions of dollars.

They said criminal contract hackers associated with China's Ministry of State Security had also engaged in cyber extortion schemes and theft on their own account.

The U.S. Justice Department also announced charges against four Chinese nationals who prosecutors said were working with state security police in a hacking campaign that targeted dozens of computer systems, including companies, universities and government entities, the Associated Press reported.

The defendants are accused of targeting trade secrets and confidential business information, including scientific technologies and infectious-disease research.

The EU said malicious cyber activities with "significant effects" that targeted government institutions, political organizations and key industries in the bloc's 27 member states could be linked to Chinese hacking groups.

Borrell had said at the time that the hacking was "conducted from the territory of China for the purpose of intellectual property theft and espionage."

A spokesperson for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, Liu Pengyu, said the allegations were "groundless."

"The U.S. has repeatedly made groundless attacks and malicious smear against China on cybersecurity," Liu said, saying China was "a severe victim of the U.S. cyber theft, eavesdropping and surveillance."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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