'No-limits friendship with Putin': EU chief strongly attacks China over its foreign policy

'No-limits friendship with Putin': EU chief strongly attacks China over its foreign policy
Credit: Belga / Thierry Roge

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has issued a scathing condemnation of China's domestic and foreign policy, in remarks which are likely to further strain already tense relations between Beijing and Brussels.

In a speech delivered ahead of a trip to Beijing next week with French President Emmanuel Macron — her first as Commission President — von der Leyen heavily criticised Beijing's repression of its Uighur minority in the Western province of Xinjiang, and denounced China's decision to cultivate warmer ties with Russia despite the latter's full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.

"Far from being put off by the atrocious and illegal invasion of Ukraine, President Xi [Jinping] is maintaining his 'no-limits friendship' with [Russian President Vladimir] Putin," von der Leyen told the Mercator Institute for China Studies and the European Policy Centre in Brussels on Thursday.

"How China continues to interact with Putin's war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward," she added.

'A more assertive stance'

The Commission President also criticised China's "more assertive stance in its own neighbourhood", and suggested that such "escalatory actions" form part of a larger plan by President Xi, who "essentially wants China to become the world's most powerful nation."

"The show of military force in the South China Sea and East China Sea, and at the border with India, directly affect our partners and their legitimate interests," she said.

The EU chief also noted her "great concern" about China's "grave human rights violations occurring in Xinjiang", and stated that the EU's continued relations with China will be dependent upon the improvement of the latter's human rights record.

"How China meets international obligations regarding human rights will be another test for how — and how much — we can cooperate with China," she stated.

In addition, von der Leyen condemned the fact that Beijing "has also ramped up its policies of disinformation and economic and trade coercion", and suggested that "this is a deliberate policy of targeting other countries to ensure they comply and conform" with Beijing's wishes.

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The Commission President concluded by suggesting that the EU needs to "rebalance" its relationship with Beijing, which is "increasingly affected by distortions created by China's state capitalist system."

In particular, she alluded to the fact that the EU is heavily dependent upon China for several key rare earths, including 93% of its magnesium and 97% of its lithium. She noted that the Commission's recently proposed Critical Raw Materials Act was designed specifically to "diversify and secure" the bloc's supply of such materials.

The EU chief's confrontational rhetoric is becoming increasingly mirrored in Beijing. Earlier this month, President Xi claimed that "Western countries headed by the United States have contained, encircled and suppressed China in an all-round way, bringing unprecedentedly severe challenges to China's development."

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