(CN) — A new word has sprung up in European geopolitical circles when it comes to China: They're talking about “de-risking.”
This concept involves the European Union's careful lessening of dependence on China's economy but not advocating a drastic cutting of ties with the Asian superpower.
It is the EU's response to U.S. President Joe Biden's insistence that the West must “decouple” from China, a strategy that implies a clear separation from China's economy in a bid to contain Beijing's rising power.
The EU's new de-risking policy was put to the test this week with a high-profile trip to China by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Macron was scheduled to fly back to France late Friday while Von der Leyen left Thursday.
This was the first trip by Macron and von der Leyen to China since the coronavirus pandemic and followed recent visits to Beijing by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez. Next week, the EU's chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, is scheduled to visit Beijing too.
China only recently threw open its borders after lifting its zero-Covid policy that sparked large-scale protests. The flurry of trips by European leaders to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping highlights how important trade is for the each side.
About 9% of EU exports go to China while about 20% of its imports come from China. With the EU such a big market for China, the hope is that European leaders can persuade Xi to back away from his support for Russia and scale back his global ambitions.
Macron and von der Leyen, though, went to Beijing with seemingly discordant missions: Von der Leyen talked the tough language of de-risking while Macron tried to ease tensions and boost trade between France and China. About 50 businessmen joined Macron on his three-day trip and several business deals were inked. He also met with Chinese students and held dinners with Xi.
“Now you have a good cop and bad cop both visiting China,” said Zongyuan Liu, a China expert on the Council on Foreign Relations, an American think tank, during a discussion on France 24 television.
But Macron and von der Leyen appeared to be on the same page in asking Xi to help bring an end to the war in Ukraine. China has proposed a peace plan, but its conditions are deemed favorable to Russia and the White House has rejected it.
Macron and von der Leyen said they told Xi to “bring Russia to its senses and bring everyone back to the negotiating table.”
But Xi did not budge and said the “legitimate security concerns of all parties” need to taken into consideration, a statement that aligns with Moscow's arguments.
European companies and economies are deeply invested in China and there are fears of a massive rupture if relations break down over a potential Chinese invasion of Taiwan or the risk of China sending arms shipments to Russia to fight its war in Ukraine.
The de-risking policy and a harsher EU view of China's rising power were spelled out in an uncompromising speech by von der Leyen on March 30 at a think tank in Brussels.
In the speech, von der Leyen said China was “becoming more repressive at home and more assertive abroad.”
She cited Xi's “no-limits friendship” agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin; Beijing's refusal to condemn Russia for attacking Ukraine; evidence of human rights violations against Uyghur Muslims in the Xinjiang region; its growing global influence through the Belt and Road Initiative; the buildup of its military strength and the Chinese Communist Party's exertion of ever more authoritarian control over the Chinese economy.