Is Europe rethinking its relationship with China?

European leaders advised a “tougher stance” on China – this could only pave the way for further European-Chinese competition in Africa. Writes Uriel Araujo

This week, EU heads of state and government gather in Brussels on October 20-21 for the European Council summit to discuss the current economic/energy crisis. EU-China relations is also a topic. In preparation for the summit, the EU ministers have in fact been advised a tougher stance on China, as Brussels reviews its strategy to consider Beijing as an all-out competitor.


As the Financial Times reported, a paper prepared for the 27 member states’ foreign ministers by the European External Action Service (EEAS), the bloc’s foreign service, advised working closely with Washington, strengthening cyber-defense against Beijing and diversifying the supply chain away from the Asian superpower. Parts of the EEAS document have been quoted by Politico’s journalist Jacopo Barigazzi.

The European double formula for China so far has been to treat it as a kind of a “partner-competitor”. However, it would appear policy-makers in Brussels want to rethink it for the future. The paper states that the bloc should “identify and address the challenges deriving from China’s foreign policy”, and, quite tellingly, notes that the ongoing Chinese “activities and positions in multilateral organisations exemplify its determination to systematically promote an alternative vision of the world order.” This is a sign that the EU political elite sees the emergence of a polycentric multipolar world order as a challenge or even as a kind of a threat.


The paper continues: “Whilst the current EU strategy is still valid, China has become an even stronger global competitor for the EU, the U.S. and other like-minded partners.”

Chinese-Russian partnership is clearly a concern: “Although more recently China seems to have distanced itself slightly from Russia’s objectives in Ukraine especially when Putin threatened the use of nuclear weapons, China-Russia bilateral relations clearly amount to a strong strategic partnership, based on support for each other’s core interests, and cannot be ignored.”


Interestingly, the document urges its member states to go on pressuring Beijing, by means of threats of economic warfare, over the issue of Taiwan: “It is key to focus on de-escalation and dissuasion to prevent the erosion of the status quo, including by referring to possible consequences in case of specific unilaterally imposed changes to the status quo.”

Such EEAS outlined recommendations should not be taken neither at face value nor as a sign of soon to be changes in Europe’s foreign policy, as the member states remain sovereign in the formulation of their policies. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, for instance, has a scheduled visit to China in November to congratulate Xi Jinping on his unprecedented reappointment for his third term as general secretary of China’s Communist Party (CCP). Scholz will likely be the first Western leader to do so. The EEAS suggestions however do signal in any case part of the aspirations of the Brussel’s political elite for the future, and must be seen as part of a larger context.


July’s NATO summit in Madrid for the first time addressed Beijing as a “challenge” and vowed to strengthen the “strategic partnership” with the EU. Joe Biden, after all, promised Putin the “NATOization of Europe”. Washington, under the Biden administration, and the US-led NATO currently pursue a dual containment policy aimed at “countering” and “encircling” two great powers at once, namely China and Russia. Moreover, in late April, Britain’s Liz Truss (who has recently resigned) called for the creation of a “global NATO”. This approach offers the world the risk of a new global war.

Europe would do better asserting its own sovereignty. Regarding Russia, the US has a geopolitical rivalry as well as geoeconomic and energy interests, which do not coincide with the bloc’s own energy interests. Europe has embarked on NATO’s anti-Russian agenda, and now it has largely backfired against the continent and the UK.


In the post-Nord Stream world, recession and depression-haunted Europe has no viable energy alternative in the short term for Russian gas, and, in the worst scenario, can expect increasingly isolation and industrialization. Under these circumstances, can it turn its back to Beijing? This could be quite a challenge: for one thing, the continent is struggling to make accommodations for the coming winter. In addition, for its planned energy transition, it needs wind turbines, semiconductors, and solar cells. And for all that, Europe is heavily dependent on Chinese materials.

In fact, of the 30 raw materials and metal that the bloc considers “critical”, at least 19 of them are predominantly imported from there. Regarding bismuth, Beijing has a de facto monopoly, as it provides 98% of this raw material to the EU. Moreover, China plays a key role not only in mining, but even in the processing of such materials.


The options would be giving up its green agenda and increasing mining inside, which is already happening, but even with the new European Raw Materials Fund, the hard truth is that European mining is not competitive enough, due to the lack of venture capital and subsidies.

The EU already weaponizes its hypocritical Green Agenda to heavily oppose African energy projects. If the latest EEAS advice is followed, this could only pave the way for further European-Chinese competition there – 60% of the world’s cobalt, for example, originate from Congo, in a very unstable and conflict-ridden region. Not an easy task: Beijing has already secured some vital imports from Africa through long-term contracts and investments.

In this scenario, one should expect Europe’s “neocolonialism” policies in Africa to increase. The “garden” needs” the “jungle”, after all.

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