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European External Action Service (EEAS)

China: Speech by High-Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate on EU-China relations

European External Action Service (EEAS)

EEAS Press Team

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Thank you, Mr President, Honourable Members [of the European Parliament],

This debate in the European Parliament about EU-China relations is very timely because we had a strategic discussion on China at the Foreign Affairs Council and at the European Council. Also, we have witnessed the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress, all of these happening in this month [one month ago].

The 20th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party has largely confirmed what we already knew: President [of China] Xi Jinping's personal hold on the Chinese Party, state and people, even a stronger hold of the party on the state, and, in particular, on public enterprises; the growing ideological nature of the Chinese political system with the development of both Chinese Marxist style - or Chinese way - and hyper nationalistic rhetoric.

On the speech of Xi Jinping, the word "security" was used 29 times, in the report of Xi compared to 18 times during the previous Congress.

So, the last time we discussed EU-China relations here was on 5 April, right after the EU-China Summit. Addressing and changing China's ambiguous position on Russia's war in Ukraine was the main European Union objective. China was not too eager to listen, but talking through differences is what mature partners must do.

Many months later, Russia's aggression against Ukraine is still ongoing. While we keep our focus on the war at our Eastern borders, our attention to China has not decreased. China has not condemned yet the war of [aggression] of Russia against Ukraine - and the atrocities that are happening there -, but it has set out clear red lines, and is increasingly concerned about the global consequences. Red lines about the use of nuclear weapons and, in Bali [at the G20], also sending a clear message about the global consequences and the concern they have about [them].

At the same time, it is not a secret that we and China have different political system, that we view democracy and human rights differently, that we pursue different models of governance, [and] that we have a different vision of multilateralism. But these differences should not and are not stopping us from engaging with each other.

China is becoming increasingly assertive and developing an increasingly vigorous competition. This is another reality, and I am [sorry] to announce that it will remain the way it is in the coming years. That is why we must have a clear, steady and sustained strategy towards China.

In our last position paper, the realistic approach that we adopted in 2019 has to be reaffirmed because it is neither naïve nor alarmist. It is rooted in the need to engage, to compete and to stand up for our values; and I think it still remains valid.

If we are to defend our interests and to address global challenges - climate change, but also the environment, health - we need to speak, we need to work, we need to trade and negotiate with China. European Union leaders reconfirmed this at the European Council. They also agreed on the fundamental importance of our unity across all aspects of the EU-China relationship: without unity, we will lose both credibility and leverage, both vis-à-vis China and globally. That is why it is so important that, in our approach to China, we try to get a synthesis of different points of view and keep a strong unity.

I can tell you that European Union leaders also agreed that the European Union needs to step up its work on reducing dependencies and strategic vulnerabilities - diversifying sources of supply and improving internal resilience. This applies to raw materials and semiconductors - both being critical for the green transition.

To counter cyber and hybrid threats is something that has to be also high in our agenda, and to step up our engagement with both the likeminded and the non-likeminded partners to better address them.

In a nutshell, to be concrete and short, we need to extend the economic and political dimensions of our partnership, proposing sustainable solutions to key challenges and proving that our cooperation, our "offer" of cooperation is as valuable as our political partnership. Political partnership is needed, concrete offers - I said that before, in a question I answered - are also as important. Our Indo-Pacific Strategy and our Global Gateway initiative [Strategy] are central to that offer.

I am coming from Central Asia, and I can tell you that the countries of Central Asia are looking at us, are waiting [for] our partnership, are waiting [for] our support because they do not want to be squeezed between China and Russia. They want to have a more balanced foreign policy. This part of the world - that, some years ago, could be considered to be "in the middle of nowhere" - now is "in the middle of everything". This is a good example of how we can increase our partnership with people who are not necessarily, exactly our like-minded [partners], but with whom we share a geostrategic interest.

That is important and that is why I count on this Parliament to support the work that we have been developing. I hope the discussion today will bring some light to our work, insisting on the fact that we need - at the same time - to be part of a fierce competition, that we need cooperation in certain fields, and we need to understand that, in many others, we will be engaged in a systemic rivalry. That does not mean to be in a permanent rivalry in [everything], in [every] field, for everything, everywhere.

Communication channels have to be open with Beijing. Not even the Americans are asking for decoupling their economies - neither us are we. But certainly, human rights issues will be high in our agenda. We need to update our policy towards China in light of the most recent developments and, in particular, the very important American [US] declaration on 7 October, concerning the drastic reduction of China's access to American technology in the field of semiconductors. This is a decision that has to be taken into account.

The technological battle will be absolutely fundamental for our immediate future. Semiconductors are, truly, the most fundamental technological issue of the economic competition in the 21st century. We have to develop, also, a dialogue with other countries that are in a similar situation as us - [I am] thinking, in particular, of Japan. [We have] to keep a dialogue with the United States - this [EU-US] Dialogue is going to take place next week. The Secretary-General of the [European] External Action Service, [Stefano Sannino], and my team will travel to Washington to have this political high-level Dialogue on China. Certainly, the United States are our most important ally but, in some cases, we will not be in the same position or on the same approach to towards China.

Certainly, we have to work together because what is going to happen in our relations with China will mark this century.

Thank you.

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