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China is the elephant in the G-7 room

This comes on top of Germany, whose outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel is less interested in exposing Beijing’s human rights violations than in increasing car sales in the country Washington sees as its biggest geopolitical rival.

“The EU agrees with the US on some concerns arising from China’s rise to world power,” said a senior European Union diplomat. “But China is more of a concern for Washington than for Berlin or Paris. After all, it is the US economy that will be overtaken by the Chinese.

The diplomat added, “Biden is going to have a lot of smiles in Europe because it’s not the Trump era anymore where if we don’t listen we are an enemy. The signs, so far, have been largely positive. “

However, listening is not the same as accepting.

The executive branch of the EU, the European Commission, proposed a transatlantic agenda as soon as Biden’s victory was declared. While China is a main issue on the agenda, the EU does not hesitate to voice its differences with the United States on how to meet the challenge. “As open democratic societies and market economies, the EU and the United States agree on the strategic challenge presented by China’s growing international assertiveness,” he said, before adding: “even if we don’t always agree on the best way to solve this problem ”.

“We are at the start of an effort to forge a common approach to dealing with the rise of China, and I believe that many of America’s Democratic allies are not looking forward to a fight,” said Charles Kupchan, who was Senior Director of European Affairs on the National Security Council staff during the Obama administration. “In the end, China will be uncomfortable, and that’s because the Chinese don’t like any criticism or feel that the world’s democracies are ganging up on it.”

Beijing may have a feeling that collective action for Biden seems to be working: In a highly unusual speech earlier this month, President Xi Jinping called on China to be more “kind” and “to widen the circle. ‘friends’.

The question is: how uncomfortable will the United States and Europe be to make China uncomfortable? Diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic are trying to find – and expand – common ground.

Amid China’s dominance of 5G technology and the abundance of state-subsidized global business expansion, Biden is expected to unveil a US-European business and technology council in Brussels. According to an EU official, this will serve as an “operational platform” to design policies on semiconductors, 5G technology and artificial intelligence to weaken Beijing’s ambition as a world leader.

Another fear stems from Beijing’s largesse in acquiring critical infrastructure around the world through the Belt and Road Initiative. During the G7 summit in the UK, Biden, Macron, Merkel and other world leaders are expected to announce what Biden called a “high-quality” alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a program billions of dollars to build infrastructure in the developing world.

White House and State Department spokespersons did not immediately comment.

But Biden predicted some of his plans in a Washington Post weekend column, in which he described the overall purpose of his trip as “being to realize America’s renewed commitment to our allies and partners, and demonstrate the capacity of democracies to both respond to the challenges and deter the threats of this new era.

This goal requires investing in infrastructure, wrote the president.

“The world’s major democracies will provide a high-level alternative for China to modernize physical, digital and health infrastructure that is more resilient and supports global development,” he wrote.

Listen and make them happy

After four years of an anti-EU White House, the Biden administration is actively pursuing closer alignment with Europe in order to confront China, as officials have worked to calm European countries worried about having to choose sides between Washington and Beijing.

“The United States will not force our allies to choose ‘us or them’ with China,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said during a trip to Brussels in March.

Blinken’s deputy, Wendy Sherman, held the first US-EU dialogue on China with her counterpart in Brussels last month. “Our interests will not always align perfectly, but we have so much more in common with each other than we have with some of the challenges and challenges, people and countries outside,” said Sherman.

EU officials are particularly pleased that the Biden administration has moved from Trump’s outright confrontation with Beijing to a multi-pronged approach that encompasses competition and cooperation, citing the visit of US Climate Tsar John Kerry in China as a positive gesture.

“So far the signs from the United States are heading in the right direction,” an EU official said. “Biden’s visit will be an opportunity for us to see if the Americans follow suit, to consult with us on how to move forward with China, and not just ask us to go their way.”

Strategic patience

Facilitating Biden’s mission, China rocked the boat of what was once a positive vibe with Europe. The European Parliament has decided to freeze the process of ratifying a massive investment agreement with China, as Beijing refuses to lift the sanctions against European parliamentarians and diplomats.

Yet Beijing is keen to reach out to Europe as it anticipates long-term competition from the United States. Last week, China hosted visits from three EU foreign ministers – from Ireland, Hungary and Poland – while Xi and Prime Minister Li Keqiang held a series of talks with Merkel and Macron. Indeed, France and Germany contacted China for a trilateral session on climate change just days before the White House hosted a summit of world leaders on the same subject.

In the context of the EU27, foreign policy is firmly in the hands of the member states, making Germany and France the most influential actors in the conduct of EU-China relations.

“Biden needs Europe on board to make his economic agenda with China work, but it’s really up to Berlin and Paris to understand that it’s more than the future.” of the transatlantic relationship, but of the future of Europe. own security and prosperity when it comes to meeting the challenges posed by China, ”said Janka Oertel, Asia Program Director at the European Council on Foreign Relations.

While this may be the case, Europe will continue to debate whether the best way forward is to stand united with America, with France at the forefront of these hesitations.

“Europeans do not want to be caught choosing sides,” Gérard Araud, former French ambassador to the United States, said this week at an event organized by the Atlantic Council, a think tank. “Of course, we are closer – much closer – to the United States than China, but we don’t want to be aligned with the United States”

As the Germans prepare to go to the polls in September after Merkel’s 16 years, Oertel said Berlin may be ready to take a tougher stance on China – after the summer.

“Merkel’s stance on China will not change in the remaining months of her tenure as Chancellor, so it will be important for the Biden administration to think beyond the current setup and have some strategic patience,” she declared. “It is important not to create conditions now that will make cooperation more difficult in a few months. “

Benjamin Haddad, director of the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center, is more optimistic.

“I think there is a good dynamic to build an American-European convergence on China. The rejection by the European Parliament of [the China investment agreement] shows how quickly the mood is changing in Europe, ”Haddad said. “While one can still find transatlantic divergences on the broader assessment of China’s challenge, there is growing convergence on many sectoral issues and this is where the Biden administration can work with Europeans.

“It is also urgent to work on sending vaccines to the rest of the world to push back Chinese efforts in this area,” he added.

There is no doubt that reaching real and lasting agreements – even among allies – will take longer than the next few days. But at this point in Biden’s presidency, even symbolic gestures can resonate, and that includes making Europe the destination of his first overseas trip.

“Will the alliances and democratic institutions that have shaped much of the last century prove their capacity against the threats and adversaries of modern times? He wrote in the Washington Post. “I believe the answer is yes. And this week in Europe we have the chance to prove it.

Nahal Toosi contributed reporting.

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