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Chinese ambassador Fu Cong decries EU's 'assertiveness' and 'unilateral actions'

Fu Cong has served as Chinese Ambassador to the European Union since December 2022.
Fu Cong has served as Chinese Ambassador to the European Union since December 2022. Copyright Ng Han Guan/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved
Copyright Ng Han Guan/Copyright 2021 The AP. All rights reserved
By Jorge Liboreiro
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Fu Cong, China's ambassador to the European Union, delivered on Tuesday a speech denouncing the bloc for its "assertiveness," "unilateral actions" and "politically motivated" strategy of de-risking.

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His comments refer to the growing shift in thinking in Brussels, where relations with China are now being closely examined through a lens of economic and national security, prompting policy initiatives to mitigate harmful dependencies, control the transfer of sensitive technologies and keep foreign subsidies in check.

"The scope and the speed of the changes in the EU is (sic) unprecedented as many of these measures are protectionist in nature and potentially in conflict with WTO rules," Fu said during an event organised by the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) and attended by Euronews.

"We are deeply concerned about the EU's growing assertiveness and the unilateral actions as they cause disruptions to all bilateral trade and investment."

The Chinese ambassador used his keynote speech, whose main theme was the rebuilding of mutual trust, to air an extensive list of grievances that began with the bloc's three-pronged designation of China as a partner for cooperation, an economic competitor and a systemic rival, which Beijing has repeatedly contested since its formal introduction in 2019.

"Understanding this so-called 'Holy Trinity' is a mind-boggling exercise," Fu said. "This concept is not only contradictory in itself but also inconsistent with the facts. Partner? Of course, always. Competitors? Maybe. But since when have we become rivals?"

The ambassador noted that China's political system – an authoritarian regime under the dominant rule of the Chinese Communist Party – was not a "problem" when diplomatic relations were established in the 1970s and should therefore not be one today.

"Some would argue that China does not share EU values. If this logic goes, then the EU will have a lot of rivals because from the Middle East to Africa, from Asia to Latin America, there are many countries who obviously do not see eye to eye with Europe when it comes to values," Fu said, using the Israel-Hamas war as an example of divergent responses on the global stage.

"This perception, unfortunately, often leads to erosion of trust. Sometimes frictions or even confrontations," he went on. "We have already seen a worrying trend of emphasising by some groups on the rivalry part while downplaying the partner part."

Fu then pointed the finger directly at the European Commission for promoting the strategy of de-risking and reinforcing its arsenal of trade measures to lessen the bloc's overreliance on some Chinese imports, including raw materials, solar panels and batteries. The rethinking has also led to an anti-subsidy investigation into China-made electric cars, with reports that a similar probe could be launched into wind turbines.

"A politically motivated de-risking process runs counter to established business norms, and many would argue is a risky exercise in itself," Fu told the audience in Brussels.

"This may well spill over and affect wider areas in the future. That would be the least welcoming news to an already struggling (global) economy."

Europe's response

Fu's speech was followed by a virtual intervention of Jorge Toledo, the EU's Ambassador to China, which served as an official retort to the complaints made by the Chinese envoy.

De-risking is "not protectionist. It is not closing the door to cooperation. Our de-risking is country-agnostic and only affects a small part of our trade," Toledo said. "De-risking is not self-reliance, one of China's major economic strategies for decades."

As Fu did, Toledo used his allotted time to spell out the many disagreements and controversies that are currently upsetting EU-China relations, such as a ballooning trade deficit and the persistent barriers and obstacles that European companies face in the Chinese market, including a recent update to the anti-espionage law that grants Beijing greater powers to crack down on perceived threats to national security.

"Rebuilding trust will take time," he warned.

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Notably, Toledo raised a topic that Fu completely evaded: Russia's aggression on Ukraine. Since February 2022, Brussels has urged Beijing to condemn the invasion and uphold the principles of the UN Charter. But President Xi Jinping has ignored the calls and instead maintained contact with Vladimir Putin on a business-as-usual basis.

"Territorial integrity has always been a key principle for China in international diplomacy. Its own territorial integrity is the reddest of the lines," Toledo said. "Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine is a blatant breach of this principle. It is very difficult for us to understand China's double-standards stance."

"I cannot emphasise enough how damaging for China's image and reputation in Europe is the position chosen in Beijing on the Russian war in Ukraine," he added.

The disparate perspectives projected by both envoys expose the chasm between Brussels and Beijing, which has deepened in recent years over the COVID-19 pandemic, the repression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, tit-for-tat sanctions, tensions in the Taiwan Strait and trade restrictions in the fields of semiconductors and raw materials.

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The two sides are now attempting to curb this deterioration and achieve something akin to a diplomatic reset. The last couple of months have seen several European Commissioners, including Valdis Dombrovskis, Věra Jourová and Thierry Breton, as well as High Representative Josep Borrell, visit Beijing to lay the groundwork for an EU-China summit in early December.

"I know that Chinese interlocutors and friends don't like that we describe part of our relationship as a systemic rivalry. But as I say, it is a description and a fair one. We are indeed rivals. Our values and beliefs are different on many subjects, including democracy and the universal character of human rights," Toledo said.

"The way in which we as Europeans view our relationship with China will probably not change any time soon, I'm afraid."

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