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Borrell calls on China to treat EU as a ‘geopolitical power’ in its own right

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The EU has called on China to take it seriously as a geopolitical power in its own right rather than look at the bloc “through the lens” of its ties with third powers, in a veiled reference to accusations from Beijing officials that Brussels follows the US on security issues. 

Speaking during his first visit to Beijing since the pandemic, the EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell also warned his Chinese counterparts on the growing trade surplus between China and the EU, saying that it could lead to demands for “more drastic protectionist measures” from European voters.

“The war in Ukraine has converted us into a geopolitical power, not just an economic one,” Borrell told reporters in Beijing on Saturday at the end of the visit, during which he met China’s foreign minister Wang Yi.

“And we want to talk with China from this approach: don’t look at European Union relations through the lens of relations with others.”

Borrell’s trip comes as Beijing seeks to place its relations with Europe on a firmer footing to offset growing rivalry with the US, which has introduced measures to crackdown on the sale of advanced technology to China. 

But Beijing is furious that Europe is also placing restrictions on the export of some advanced semiconductor technology, which will hit China, after pressure from the US,

Wu Hongbo, Beijing’s special representative on European affairs, last month told a meeting of ambassadors from the bloc that it should be up to European countries and companies “to decide what to sell to China — it should not be a decision made by someone else across the Atlantic Ocean”.

“Europe takes China very, very seriously,” Borrell said, adding it expected the same from Beijing.

Borrell said China’s trade surplus with Europe, which reached nearly €396bn last year, could not be justified based purely on productivity issues or a greater competitive advantage. It probably had more to do with poor market access for the bloc’s countries to the world’s second-largest economy.

In a speech on Friday at Beijing’s prestigious Peking University, he said with EU elections next year, the trade imbalance threatened to become an important issue.

“If the public concludes that the trade imbalance with China is so great as to endanger key sectors, or place our transition towards climate neutrality at risk, it will demand more drastic protectionist measures,” he said.

“Since our leaders are elected, they are naturally sensitive to what their voters want.”

In other remarks, he said he also called on China to use its influence with Moscow to persuade Russia to rejoin the Black Sea grain deal with Ukraine to avoid another food crisis.

Russia pulled out of the deal in July after complaining that, since the UN and Turkey first brokered the deal last year, western sanctions had held up a parallel agreement to allow payments, insurance and shipping for Moscow’s own agricultural exports.

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