[Interview] Whether “de-risking” becomes decoupling is in China’s hands, says EU Parliament VP

Posted on : 2023-05-18 17:04 KST Modified on : 2023-05-18 17:04 KST
A conversation with EU Parliament Vice President Nicola Beer on the union’s strategy for relations with China
Nicola Beer, vice president of the European Parliament.
Nicola Beer, vice president of the European Parliament.

With the war in Ukraine continuing for over a year and the strategic rivalry intensifying between the US and China, the European Union has begun talking about “de-risking” as a new approach to China.

This approach would involve preemptively managing the potential risks that China poses to the EU, rather than immediately pursuing a “decoupling” approach of separating from it and shifting away from cooperation.

Outlining this EU vision in an interview with the Hankyoreh last Monday, Nicola Beer, one of the European Parliament’s vice presidents, stressed that the future of Europe-China relations will depend on the extent to which China upholds an international order based on democracy and rules.

Beer is a member of Germany’s right-leaning Free Democratic Party, which is part of the so-called “traffic light coalition” led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Hankyoreh: What does China mean to the European Union in terms of politics, economics, and geopolitics?

Nicola Beer: China is best characterized by the triad of “partner, competitor and systemic rival.” Unfortunately, China has recently shifted the balance more and more towards rivalry.

Hankyoreh: The EU relies on China for 20% of its imports and 9% of its exports. Doesn’t resetting the relationship pose difficulties?

Beer: Not to be unilaterally dependent was and is always a wise strategy — not only for states, but also for enterprises. And this applies even more in light of the new reality after COVID-19, as well as after Putin’s attack against Ukraine. Against this background “de-risking” is crucial to protect not only our citizens and businesses but also our self-determination. Whether de-risking becomes de-coupling lies in China’s own hands: China will continue to be a market for Europe, if they are compliant with the rules-based order, ready to provide fair conditions and stick to the rules of the World Trade Organization.

Hankyoreh: With 27 member states that have different positions on China, how can the EU bring them together?

Beer: “Divide and conquer” — in this sense splitting up the EU is exactly what China wants and continuously pursues. But our common interests, our common values and an increasing sense of disillusionment with some long-term aspects of certain engagements of China will support the unity of the EU. An updated EU-China strategy [to be announced in June] will be the answer to the new challenges. In a holistic approach, we have to be prepared for all kinds of developments of the strategic and security environment: from energy over food to economy and defense. We need to secure our supply and value chains. Additionally, we need to diversify our partnerships with like-minded, trustworthy partners and friends of the democratic family in Southeast Asia, such as the ROK, Japan, Australia and Taiwan.

Hankyoreh: The EU has proposed sanctions on Chinese companies for supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine, which is likely to increase tensions with Beijing.

It is important to tighten the EU sanctions and to increase the pressure on Russia. Therefore, we need to prevent deliveries to the Russian military industry by or through companies in third states. Therefore, I utterly support the effort of the EU to close the gaps and prevent further supplies to the Russian war machine. Regardless of if they were coming from China, Iran, North Korea, Belarus or elsewhere.

Hankyoreh: What does Taiwan mean to the EU?

Taiwan is an important and trusted economic partner, as well as a member of the democratic family in Southeast Asia for the EU. Against this background, we will not accept a unilateral change of the status quo of Taiwan by China. We were too late for Hong Kong, we must not be too late for Taiwan.

Hankyoreh: What are your thoughts on Europe’s move to build “strategic autonomy” in terms of security and military, such as the creation of an EU army?

The war in Ukraine has drastically shown a clear need for strengthening the military capabilities of the EU. This means increasing and improving our spending for armament, joint research, development and training, and also building common command structures, as well as a fully integrated decision-making process.

The main goal is to achieve a deeper integration of the EU in the field of the Common Security and Defence Policy. This is a lengthy process, where the EU Army could be — and in my opinion, should be — one of the final steps of this integration.

By Noh Ji-won, Berlin correspondent

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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