The US and European Union held another round of diplomatic talks on Thursday over their relations with China, the latest sign of a nascent transatlantic united front to confront Beijing amid mounting geopolitical tensions.
In a joint statement issued after the meeting in Washington between Wendy Sherman, the No. 2 US State Department official, and Secretary General of the European External Action Service Stefano Sannino, one of the top diplomats of the EU, the two sides expressed concern at China’s crackdown on human rights at home and saber-rattling against its neighbors.
“They discussed ongoing human rights abuses and abuses in China, including the systematic repression of ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, and the erosion of autonomy and democracy in Hong Kong,” the statement said.
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“They expressed deep concern about China’s problematic and unilateral actions in the South and East China Sea and the Taiwan Strait that undermine peace and security in the region and have a direct impact on the security and prosperity of both the United States as well as the European Union,” it added.
The statement also addressed economic and trade issues with Beijing, including “the importance of protecting intellectual property rights, critical infrastructure and sensitive technologies.”
It was the second time Sherman and Sannino have met this year as part of an initiative formally known as the US-EU China Dialogue, and just the latest in a series of high-level discussions between Washington and Brussels with Beijing in thoughts.
As US President Joe Biden and his foreign policy team have moved to confront China on a variety of fronts, from human rights to trade to territorial disputes, they have sought to put allies, including the European nations, at the heart of that strategy.
Both political parties in Washington have made it clear that they see China in the Xi Jinping era as a dangerous power that threatens US influence and undermines global stability. But in Europe, the issue of authoritarian China’s growing role in the world and how to respond to it is still a matter of debate.
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Brussels has been reluctant to go as far as Washington would like, with the EU being particularly cautious after Beijing cut some lines of communication following a multilateral round of sanctions in March targeting Chinese officials for alleged human rights violations in far western Xinjiang.
Relations were further disrupted when the US announced a security pact known as Aukus with Australia and Britain, under which Canberra will buy US nuclear-powered submarines instead of diesel-powered French ships.
But there are some areas of clear cooperation.
After the EU endorsed US efforts to put China at the center of communiqués from the G7 and NATO summits in May and June, the two launched a Trade and Technology Council in September, in which China is not mentioned by name. , but is widely regarded as being focused on competing with China on key technologies of the future.
The EU and the US also temporarily put aside a major Trump-era trade dispute in October, agreeing to a moratorium on tariffs and form a metal alliance Biden said it was targeting “countries dumping steel into our markets, hammering our workers and causing them serious harm, both industry and the environment.”
And when the EU announced its 300 billion (US$340 billion) Global Gateway infrastructure drive on Wednesday, it was pitched by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen as “a real alternative” to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
EU officials briefing reporters on the background said it was compatible with Biden’s own plan, launched at the G7 meeting in June, to build infrastructure projects around the world, and that “like-minded” democracies would seek would collaborate on projects.
“We don’t decide on the partner … we take the path that we will work with whoever, if they want to work according to the same principles that we want to work with,” said a senior official when asked if China was involved.
“It’s a matter of values,” the official said, adding that projects should meet strict criteria regarding social and labor rights, transparency and governance, climate neutrality and sustainable development.
Lithuania seeks more EU aid in Taiwan row after US $600m. has increased
The US has also extended its support to Lithuania, the EU member state that has hit China the hardest.
Vilnius earned Beijing’s wrath by withdrawing from a China-backed geopolitical grouping with Central and Eastern European countries known as 17+1, and agreeing to host a “Taiwanese Representative Office” – the first such European mission bearing the name “Taiwan”.
Washington last month secured a $600 million export credit package through the United States Export-Import Bank, and has also provided significant rhetorical support to Lithuania’s feud with China.
Since March, there have been at least 10 high-level meetings or official talks between US and Lithuanian officials.
Biden met Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda at both the NATO summit and the COP26 climate talks. Nauseda will also attend the Biden Summit for Democracy next week, while Sherman, Foreign Secretary Antony Blinken and Asia Adviser Kurt Campbell all met Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis last week.
The first US-EU dialogue on China, held in May, was Sherman’s first stop on her first foreign tour, according to the State Department.
The initiative was announced at the end of Donald Trump’s administration, at the time, then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he envisioned it as a “catalyst for action” for Washington and Brussels to tackle Beijing.
Thursday’s joint statement also included areas of potential cooperation between the US, the EU and China, including the reduction of methane emissions and “common goals in Iran and the Korean Peninsula”.
Sherman and Sannino meet again Friday for more discussions.
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