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China: Speech on behalf of the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP debate


Speech delivered by Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen

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Madam President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

Today’s debate is a timely opportunity to discuss our common approach towards China. As reflected in your report, a lot has changed in the past months when it comes to this important relationship, and not necessarily for the better. Relations have become increasingly challenging.

Until the end of 2020, we saw positive steps in developing European Union-China relations, rebalancing our economic relations and developing our internal toolbox to address challenges brought along by China.

This increased leverage and credibility allowed us to conclude the negotiations of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment in December, but also to agree on human rights sanctions over Chinese individuals under the European Union Global Human Rights Sanctions Regime.

Since then, the situation has changed. The Chinese decision to impose counter-measures, including on Members of this Parliament, simply for having expressed their opinions, has led to a worsening of relations.

China will remain an increasingly assertive global power that does not shy away from applying economic pressure on countries and actors whose policies it disagrees with. Our values gap is growing. So is the need for European Union solidarity and for signalling that certain actions are unacceptable. This plenary debate and the report on a new European Union-China strategy testify to this.

I believe that our overall approach towards European Union-China relations, our multi-faceted approach that treats China as a partner, competitor and rival, remains valid.  We need to engage with China, as a key economic partner and political player without whom we cannot address global challenges effectively. At the same time, the European Union must continue to speak its mind, stand its ground and push back in areas where fundamental disagreement with China exists, first and foremost on human rights.

Our current framework to handle relations with China fits closely with the recommendations of this report. Our overall approach encompasses key foreign policy aims that are not actor specific – such as strategic autonomy. We aim at international cooperation which preserves our values and a rules-based multilateral system. We foster partnerships with the like-minded – as you will see in the Indo-Pacific strategy. All of these, taken together, reflect the recommendations put forward in the report.

I thank Ms [Hilde] Vautmans and shadow rapporteurs for the Recommendations and the general support to our policies in this report. Our unity remains our strength.

I am looking forward to continuing our exchange.

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Closing remarks

Madam President, Honourable Members,

Thank you for the very good debate. I think the debate today actually testifies your continued interest and engagement on the content and strategic direction of our European Union-China policy.

It also conveys a sense of urgency, reflecting an overall downward trend in our relations, but also the recognition that we must stand together in our engagement with China at bilateral, regional and multilateral level if we want to bring our points across.

Let me stress once again the need for maintaining a multi-faceted approach to China: remaining open for dialogue and engagement to pursue the ambitions of global public goods and the SDGs; defending our values and citizens, in a spirit of unity and solidarity; stepping up our efforts to continue closing loopholes and beefing up our resilience.

I trust on the support of this House to pursue this strategy.

Thank you.

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Nabila Massrali
Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
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Xavier Cifre Quatresols
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