The EU is seeking a reset in its ties with China, though Beijing’s refusal to condemn Moscow’s war in Ukraine clouds prospects for any grand rapprochement.
A flurry of European leaders has descended on Beijing in a push to get dialogue going, with key visits by French President Emmanuel Macron and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen scheduled this week.
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They follow German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, European Council President Charles Michel and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, all of whom have visited Beijing since China dropped its zero-Covid restrictions in December 2022.
EU Commission President von der Leyen acknowledged last week that ties have become “more distant and more difficult” in recent years.
“Understanding each other starts with speaking with one another,” she said.
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The goal of Michel’s December visit was to revive dialogue between the European Union and China, a European ambassador said in a recent briefing to journalists.
And the long-term objective is to hold an EU-China summit in Beijing in June or July, according to diplomatic sources.
The EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell will also visit China soon, the same sources said.
“We can see there is this desire to re-establish contacts and above all to weigh in as the EU,” Valerie Niquet, head of the Asia programme at France’s Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), told AFP.
The idea is to “strike up normal relations again”, she added.
Analysts say a re-establishment of “business as usual” could also be beneficial from Beijing’s perspective.
“China is interested in the EU for two reasons: in terms of economics, it’s an essential market,” Niquet said.
“And it could eventually be a way of circumventing American pressure at various levels, and driving a wedge into any sort of Western unity against China.”