Not even Hong Kong moves Europe: no sanctions against China


While Beijing also threatens Taiwan, after the choice of Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen to visit the library of a refugee from Hong Kong, the European Union remains firm in its position: on the one hand, one could say, ‘third’ in the new cold war between the US and China; on the other, absolutely respectful of the economic relations now close with Beijing. The riots and repression in Hong Kong are the main topic of the informal council of European foreign ministers today. But at the end of the meeting, representatives of the 27 European countries did not join in the threat of sanctions against Beijing by Donald Trump, supported by Great Britain, Canada and Australia.

“Sanctions are not the solution,” said EU High Representative for Foreign Policy Josep Borrell at a press conference. But today in his speech there is something more than the simple European choice, however not new, to maintain a third position between Washington and Beijing. Borrell makes an almost ultimative and very pragmatic reasoning, based on the commercial relationships that now bind the European States to China.

“I am still amazed at how China’s position in the world economy has changed – he says – Twenty years ago, China represented 4 percent of world economic production, today it is 16 percent.” And then he pronounces the key phrase: that of China is “a performance that will have geopolitical consequences”.

Although Borrell acknowledges that “Hong Kong’s autonomy is being weakened” by Chinese repression, the EU’s position towards Beijing does not change and will not change immediately. Of course, it won’t change until the end of the year. The German rotating presidency of the Union begins in July. Angela Merkel’s idea (as we have said here) is to keep the Union in an even ‘fourth’ position among the three world powers: the United States, Russia and China. First because, in view of the US presidential elections in November, the chancellor foresees “turbulent relations” with Trump. And then because, as Borrell makes it clear, economic relations between European countries and China are now drawing a path on which there is no going back.

Today is the news that Volkswagen will invest 2 billion euros in two Chinese companies in the electric car sector. The German group will take over 50% of Jag, controlled by the state Jac Motors, and will increase the weight of the jv Jac Volkswagen from 50% to 75% for about 1 billion. In addition, according to a note, the company will take over 26% of Gotion High-Tech, battery manufacturer, for 1.1 billion. China accounts for 40% of Volkswagen’s global sales and is the main four-wheeler market on the planet, with leadership also in the electric sector.

This is enough to touch the state of relations between Europe and China: intertwined and not limited to Germany alone, as we know. Several European countries have signed the Memorandum of Understanding with China for the ‘new silk road’, from Orban’s Hungary to the yellow-green government’s Italy. And now, Borrell says, the choice of the Beijing National Assembly to pass a law prohibiting “secession, subversive activities, foreign interference and terrorism” in Hong Kong, transforming it ‘de facto’ into a Chinese province not more autonomous, it will not “change” the structure of European investments in China. “We will continue to discuss and put pressure on the Chinese authorities to make them aware that the Hong Kong issue will affect our relations – he adds – but there is not much more on the agenda.”

The European Union has kept its distance from Trump’s accusations of the origin of Covid-19 in China, trying to encourage the way of an international commission to understand what happened in the Wuhan laboratory. And now, in the face of what is happening in Hong Kong, it does not move the ball, while Great Britain, close to the USA and now out of the EU, offers citizenship to over 300 thousand citizens of Hong Kong, thus descending into the arena of battle against Beijing.

“There is not a single category with which we can describe our relationship with Beijing,” says Borrell. “We are allies, rivals, competitors. For example: it is difficult to think that we can resolve the challenge against climate change without China. Our relationships are complex and cannot be reduced to a single dimension. We are facing a great world power. ”

It is the result of Germany’s input on the eve of the German EU presidency semester. A way to defend yourself from the nationalist Trump, but above all to defend economic interests in China, an essential partner of the Union.

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