European leaders call for unity with US against China

Stuart Lau
·4-min read

EU leaders are looking to US President-elect Joe Biden to work with Europe to tackle Beijing, with Germany and France calling for unity against countries like China, Russia and Iran.

In a rare joint opinion piece, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his German counterpart Heiko Maas outlined their call in The Washington Post on Monday, less than two weeks after the US election.

“With Biden, greater transatlantic unity will be possible with regard to autocrats and countries that seek to enhance their power by undermining international or regional order. But a principled approach does not exclude dialogue and cooperation,” they wrote.

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“Under a Biden administration, the compass needle of US foreign policy will continue to gravitate toward China, which we see as a partner, competitor and systemic rival at the same time.”

They also said the US and the European Union should “consult each other” to coordinate their approach to China on human rights, digital infrastructure and fair trade.

Biden echoed that view on Monday, saying Washington would count on its allies to confront Beijing over unequal trade practices.

Both the US and the EU have long complained about restrictions on market access in China, which on Sunday signed the world’s largest trade deal with Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and 10 Southeast Asian nations.

“We need to be aligned with the other democracies … so that we can set the rules of the road instead of having China and others dictate outcomes because they are the only game in town,” Biden said.

But as Le Drian and Maas call for US consultation with Europe, others want Washington to take the lead.

“There is a strong need for US leadership and commitment,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide told an online forum hosted by the German Marshall Fund of the US, a Washington think tank.

Soreide, like the French and German foreign ministers, met her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi when he visited the region in summer, as Beijing sought to turn the tide of growing scepticism against China. But unlike France and Germany, Norway is not part of the EU and is closer geographically to traditional foe Russia, against which US defence is deemed essential.

Soreide called it “one of the most stunning features” of the Donald Trump administration that it sought to confront China by withdrawing from international cooperation. “That of course leaves the space wide open for China to exert even more influence, filling the void more quickly,” she said.

“It’s extremely important that when we engage in a transatlantic dialogue about this, exerting US leadership means engaging in the areas where your allies are present,” Soreide said. “By that, we can manage to do things together.”

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his German counterpart said greater transatlantic unity would be possible under a Biden administration. Photo: Xinhua
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and his German counterpart said greater transatlantic unity would be possible under a Biden administration. Photo: Xinhua

Bilateral disagreements between Washington and Brussels could be an obstacle to any joint policy on China. Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzalez Laya told the BBC on Monday that it would be wise for the US and the EU to settle disputes regarding Boeing and Airbus before they embark on policies to confront China over unfair trade practices.

The digital domain is another area of dispute, as the EU takes on big tech in the US, mainly over privacy concerns. But last week Europe’s commissioner in charge of digital policies struck a positive tone on a future Biden administration.

“We should work towards a transatlantic technology space, based on our common values of democracy, the rule of law and the dignity and integrity of the individual,” Margrethe Vestager said. “Because if we can agree on the rules, these are likely to become the global standard.”

‘Europe is ready’ to team up with Joe Biden on China

While Biden’s election victory has been welcomed in Europe, there is also caution. Responding to German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer’s pro-American stand against European strategic autonomy, French President Emmanuel Macron said there should be less reliance on the US.

“I think it is vital that our Europe finds the ways and means to decide for itself, to rely on itself, not to depend on others, in every area, technological, as I said, but also health, geopolitics,” he told journal Le Grand Continent on Monday.

“I am sure of one thing: we are not the United States of America,” Macron said. “Our values are not quite the same … We have a different world view, which is connected with Africa, the Near and Middle East, and we have different geography, which can mean our interests are not in line.”

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