Despite the transatlantic “love festival”, the EU is in third place in relations with the USA and China

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first video conference call with European Union foreign ministers last month was so upbeat that some diplomats in Europe dubbed it a “love fest.”

But two senior envoys who were present said there had been no direct response from ministers assembled in Brussels, as Blinken said: “We must push back China together and show strength in unity.”

Part of their reluctance is that they don’t want to commit to anything until Washington fleshes out its China policy under President Joe Biden.

But ministers were also cautious because the EU is seeking a strategic balance in relations with Beijing and Washington that will ensure the bloc is not so closely allied with either of the world’s two major powers that it alienates the other.

The EU also hopes to have enough independence from Washington and Beijing to be able to deepen ties with countries in the Indo-Pacific region like India, Japan and Australia, EU officials said.

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In a fresh start for the EU, they said, the bloc hopes to agree a plan next month that includes a larger and more assertive security presence in the Indo-Pacific and more development aid, trade and diplomacy between Washington and Beijing,” an EU envoy said in Asia.

Last month’s video conference was part of an attempt under Biden to rebuild alliances neglected by former US President Donald Trump, who has had an antagonistic relationship with both the EU and China.

The White House has embarked on a “Europe roadshow,” a senior US official said, and is in daily contact with European governments about China’s rising power, in “an ongoing effort for … a high level of coordination and cooperation in a row.” of areas.”

In a sign the US push on China is having an effect, Germany plans to send a frigate to Asia and across the South China Sea in August in August, where Beijing has military outposts on artificial islands, senior government officials told Reuters.

The EU will also on March 22 sanction four Chinese officials and an organization with travel bans and asset freezes over human rights abuses in China’s Uyghur Muslim minority, diplomats said.

When Chinese President Xi Jinping chaired a video summit with Central and Eastern European countries last month, six EU member states – Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia – sent ministers rather than heads of state.

But Brussels still has suspicions about Washington’s approach to China, even as European attitudes towards China have hardened over Beijing’s actions in Hong Kong, the treatment of Uyghur Muslims and the COVID-19 pandemic first detected in China.

The United States says China is an authoritarian country that has embarked on military modernization that threatens the West and has sought to weaken telecommunications equipment maker Huawei, which it sees as a national security threat.

The US-led NATO military alliance is also beginning to focus on China, but Biden’s government is still reviewing its policies.

“We ask what their China strategy is and they say they don’t have one yet,” said the EU official in Asia.

French President Emmanuel Macron last month underscored the concerns of some EU nations by saying unification against China would create “the highest possible” potential for conflict.

But the EU is hungry for new trade and sees huge potential in the Indo-Pacific.

The EU has a trade deal with Japan and is negotiating one with Australia. Diplomats say Indo-Pacific countries want the EU to be more active in the region to keep trade free and open and ensure they don’t face a direct choice between Beijing and Washington.

France committed to closer ties with allies like Australia and India with an Indo-Pacific strategy in 2018, followed by the Netherlands, which also has its own strategy, and Germany’s looser “guidelines”.

The EU strategy, if agreed, could include seconding more EU military experts to EU diplomatic missions in Asia, training coast guards and sending more EU military personnel to serve on Australian ships patrolling the Indian Ocean, diplomats said .

It is unclear to what extent Germany, which has close business ties with China, is committed to a new strategy. German government officials say the EU cannot afford to alienate Beijing despite calling China a “systemic rival” in 2019.

But French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will travel to India in April to develop the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, and the EU intends to hold a summit with India this year.

France, which has 1.8 million residents in the Pacific Overseas Territories, has about 4,000 troops in the region, as well as naval vessels and patrol boats.

“The Indo-Pacific is the cornerstone of Europe’s geopolitical path,” said a French diplomat. “There is no alternative.” Despite the transatlantic “love festival”, the EU is in third place in relations with the USA and China

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