Josep Borrell: EU has been ‘too naïve’ in its dealings with China

The EU’s foreign policy chief was speaking in Brussels after what he called an “open and frank dialogue” with top Chinese officials on Tuesday. 
Photo credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

10 Jun 2020

Following the EU-China strategic dialogue, Borrell said, “We had three hours of talks across a wide range of topics. It was an open and frank dialogue.”

“I have said in a recent interview that the EU has been too naïve in our relations with China,” he said, adding, “We have to build realistic relations with China to defend our values and interests.”

As the two sides gear up for the key EU-China summit later this month, Borrell said that neither had spoken about the ongoing health pandemic nor fresh reports that China had suppressed details about the outbreak starting in the country as far back as August 2019.


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In reply to a question, he said, “No, we did not talk about Coronavirus.”

Borrell, a former President of the European Parliament, said that after three hours of “substantial” talks it was clear there were “still concrete disagreements” between the EU and China.

He said he had raised concerns about human rights including alleged violations by China in Tibet along with “individual cases.”

“It is clear we don’t have the same political systems or the same global ambitions, but China is not playing a role that can threaten world peace. It has no military ambitions and nor does it use force to participate in military conflicts” Josep Borrell

Another issue they spoke about was Hong Kong and China’s new security laws which would make it a crime to undermine Beijing's authority. China is facing mounting criticism over its planned law.

Borrell, who was speaking at a news conference, said the law will “undermine the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and also the autonomy of Hong Kong.”

The former Spanish MEP said the law had created “genuine problems, both politically and economically” adding, “I insisted that China sticks to its international responsibilities and respects the agreements it made with the UK.”

Calling on China to “de-escalate” current tensions, he also said the two sides had agreed to work together on global challenges which “are even more important in a post-Coronavirus world.”

He said, “We have to act better, all of us. But China is one of the key global players. This is a fact and China will increase its global role, so we have to engage with China.”

He was also quizzed about recent disinformation campaigns allegedly conducted by China in Europe during the pandemic.

“We talked about this and I insisted on the need to offer citizens true and fair information. I told the minister we must fight disinformation wherever it comes from, but this meeting is not the end of the line in our relations with China. These have to be developed and built and it is important to have an exchange of views, to meet and discuss our points of views.”

“I did not expect to leave the meeting with full agreement on everything and we both agreed on working constructively and to show flexibility. The world needs more cooperation and less confrontation” Josep Borrell

He called for “more resources to fight disinformation, adding, “This comes not just from Chinese sources but a lot of others, including Russia.”

“We have to work more on this and counter the fakes. We also have to present positive information and a good narrative. Maybe on this we have not been active enough. That is why we need to strengthen resources to tackle disinformation.”

“However, please do not just preach but provide. If we want to do something about it we need to allocate resources to do it.”

He said, “We did not find agreement on everything so the work continues. There is still time to build ahead of the summit this month, particularly on our Agenda 2025.”

Borrell also addressed the issue of China being seen as a “systemic rival” to the EU, saying, “I had to explain at the meeting where we need to improve our relations, in particular on the issue of human rights.”

“I did not expect to leave the meeting with full agreement on everything and we both agreed on working constructively and to show flexibility. The world needs more cooperation and less confrontation.”

“We talked a lot about the systemic rival matter and what it means. Words do matter, they matter a lot, and these two words are not ‘soft’ words. But I ask, where are we rivals?

“It is clear we don’t have the same political systems or the same global ambitions, but China is not playing a role that can threaten world peace. It has no military ambitions and nor does it use force to participate in military conflicts.”

“We do, though, have differences of interests and values. That is a fact of life. But it is also a fact of life that we have to have cooperation to solve the climate challenge and build a multilateral world. Without China this is not possible.”

Borrell, who spoke several times about the importance of “values and interests” for the EU, also voiced “concerns” about the roll out of 5G by the Chinese, in particularly the tech giant Huawei.

He told reporters, “we also talked about this at the meeting today and I expressed my concerns. This includes concerns about the participation in 5G of European companies in China which is not as big as it was under 4G. In fact, it is 10 percent down.

“This imbalance worries us.”

He said, “We are not looking for confrontation with China. We want to build a realistic relationship and also to defend our values and interests.”

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