However two senior envoys who attended mentioned there was no direct response from the ministers gathered in Brussels when Blinken mentioned: “We should push again on China collectively and present power in unity.”
Their reluctance is partly attributable to an unwillingness to decide to something till Washington spells out extra absolutely its China coverage underneath President Joe Biden.
However the ministers have been additionally cautious as a result of the EU is in search of a strategic steadiness in relations with Beijing and Washington that ensures the bloc will not be so carefully allied with one of many world’s two massive powers that it alienates the opposite.
The EU additionally hopes to have sufficient independence from Washington and Beijing to find a way by itself to deepen ties with nations within the Indo-Pacific area akin to India, Japan and Australia, EU officers mentioned.
“ Again to suggestion tales
In a brand new departure for the EU, they mentioned, the bloc hopes to agree a plan subsequent month that includes a bigger and extra assertive safety presence within the Indo-Pacific, and extra improvement assist, commerce and diplomacy.
“We’re charting a 3rd method between Washington and Beijing,” an EU envoy in Asia mentioned.
One other EU official in Asia expressed concern that the US had “a hawkish agenda in opposition to China, which isn’t our agenda”.
Final month’s videoconference was a part of an try underneath Biden to rebuild alliances uncared for by former US President Donald Trump, who had an antagonistic relationship with each the EU and China.
The White Home has launched into a “Europe roadshow”, a senior US official mentioned, and is in each day contact with European governments about China’s rising energy, in “a sustained effort for … a excessive diploma of coordination and cooperation in a lot of areas.”
In an indication that the US push on China is having an impression, Germany plans to ship a frigate in August to Asia and throughout the South China Sea, the place Beijing has navy outposts on synthetic islands, senior authorities officers advised Reuters.
The EU can be set to sanction 4 Chinese language officers and one entity – with journey bans and asset freezes – on March 22 over human rights abuses in China’s Uighur Muslim minority, diplomats mentioned.
In an extra signal, when Chinese language President Xi Jinping chaired a video summit with central and japanese European nations final month, six EU member states – Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia – despatched ministers somewhat than heads of state.
However there may be nonetheless mistrust in Brussels of Washington’s method to China, even when attitudes in Europe have hardened in opposition to China over Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong, remedy of Uighur Muslims and the COVID-19 pandemic, first recognized in China.
The US says China is an authoritarian nation that has launched into a navy modernization that threatens the West, and has sought to weaken telecommunications gear maker Huawei, which it sees as a nationwide safety risk.
The US-led NATO navy alliance can be starting to concentrate on China, however Biden’s administration remains to be reviewing coverage.
“We ask what their China technique is and so they say they nonetheless do not have one,” the EU official in Asia mentioned.
French President Emmanuel Macron highlighted considerations in some EU states final month by saying that uniting in opposition to China would create “the best attainable” potential for battle.
However the EU is hungry for brand spanking new commerce and sees the Indo-Pacific as providing large potential.
The EU has a commerce take care of Japan and is negotiating one with Australia. Diplomats say nations within the Indo-Pacific need the EU to be extra lively within the area to maintain commerce free and open, and to make sure they don’t seem to be left going through a straight selection between Beijing and Washington.
France dedicated to nearer ties with allies akin to Australia and India with an Indo-Pacific technique in 2018, adopted by the Netherlands, which additionally has its personal technique, and Germany’s looser set of “tips”.
The EU technique, if agreed, may contain placing extra EU navy consultants in EU diplomatic missions in Asia, coaching coast guards and sending extra EU navy personnel to serve on Australian ships patrolling within the Indian Ocean, diplomats mentioned.
It’s unclear how a lot Germany, which has shut enterprise ties to China, will decide to any new technique. German authorities officers say the EU can’t afford to alienate Beijing regardless of labeling China a “systemic rival” in 2019.
However French International Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will journey to India in April to develop the EU’s Indo-Pacific technique, and the EU goals to carry a summit with India this 12 months.
France, which has 1.8 million residents in Pacific abroad territories, has about 4,000 troops within the area, plus navy ships and patrol boats.
“The Indo-Pacific is the cornerstone of Europe’s geopolitical path,” mentioned a French diplomat. “There isn’t any different.”