The European Union’s leading diplomat underscored the bloc’s “strong bond” with the US in his first virtual meeting with China’s foreign minister since President Joe Biden took office.
Foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is also vice-president of the European Commission, made the remarks after his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi raised relations with the US in their latest call on Monday, according to an EU statement.
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“High Representative Borrell underlined the EU’s strong bonds with the US,” it said. “He welcomed the new US administration’s commitment to working cooperatively with international partners and multilateral institutions.”
While Biden has yet to release his China policy, he has made clear that stronger ties with allies and partners – including the EU – will be central to his approach.
In his first foreign policy address last week, Biden described China as the “most serious competitor” to the US and vowed to “confront China’s economic abuses, counter its aggressive, coercive actions, and push back on China’s attack on human rights, intellectual property and global governance”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told CNN on Monday that Trump had been “right to take a tougher approach to China” and confirmed the US would pursue “strong alliances” in pushing back against China.
According to the EU statement, Borrell also “expressed his conviction that there was scope for the EU, China and the US to join forces in dealing with key global challenges such as climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic and the Iran nuclear issue”.
Borrell and Wang pledged further cooperation between the EU and China on climate change, the environment and biodiversity, it said.
According to China’s foreign ministry, Wang, who is also state councillor, stressed the need for “strategic autonomy” during the discussion and said the two sides should “seize the opportunity” to jointly advance their strategic partnership.
“China and Europe have competition, but cooperation far outweighs competition,” he said. “China and Europe have differences, but consensus far outweighs differences. As long as China and Europe stick to the common interests of both sides and make decisions independently, they can achieve great things.”
The conversation took place hours before Beijing announced that President Xi Jinping would host a long-anticipated virtual summit with the leaders of 17 central and eastern European countries – known as 17+1 – on Tuesday, when he is expected to push for the use of China’s Covid-19 vaccines in the region.
All but five of the 17 countries are also members of the EU, prompting concerns among the major European economies that China is seeking to undermine the bloc’s solidarity.
During Monday’s call, Borrell also stressed the need for disagreements to be discussed, to maintain a frank relationship, and said countries should avoid politicising vaccine development as more national vaccination plans were rolled out.
He also “expressed the EU’s strong concerns about the ongoing pressure on democracy and fundamental rights in Hong Kong, the treatment of human rights defenders, as well as the treatment of ethnic and religious minorities, in particular in Xinjiang”, according to the EU statement.
In response, Wang said countries should respect each other and reiterated that China opposed interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Beijing rejected any fabrications and disseminations of lies and false information, the Chinese foreign ministry statement said.
Other international issues were discussed, including the response to the military coup in Myanmar. Borrell called for the release of the detained stakeholders and said the EU was ready to work with Asean, as well as China and other partners.
Relations between China and the EU improved under former US president Donald Trump’s protectionist strategy, with the two sides reaching a comprehensive investment agreement at the end of 2020, after seven years of negotiations – a move hailed by Beijing as the year’s biggest diplomatic victory.
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