No political manipulation of China-EU ties

The European Union has reportedly postponed a secret plan to upgrade its trade ties with Taiwan, in a sign that the bloc is seeking to arrest the downward spiral of Sino-EU relations.

The building of closer trade and economic ties with the island was to have included more regular meetings, collaboration on specific sectors such as semiconductors, and more visits by senior officials, which would certainly cause further damage to the already strained partnership between Beijing and Brussels.

China-EU relations have worsened over the past year after the EU in March joined the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada in announcing sanctions against Chinese officials for alleged human rights abuses in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, with China making a tit-for-tat response. The European Parliament then formally froze the ratification process for the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, which had been agreed between the two sides in December last year after 35 rounds of negotiations over seven years.

The winter that has befallen China-EU political relations is in sharp contrast to the bright prospects for the thriving trade and economic links between the two sides. Last year, China overtook the US to become the EU's largest trade partner and despite the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global industrial and supply chains, China-EU trade continued the momentum this year, increasing more than 30 percent in the first three quarters of 2021.

It is sad that some politicians in Europe have allowed "political manipulation" to get in the way of the healthy development of Sino-EU relations to the detriment of both sides' interests. In a strategy paper published in 2019, the EU wrongly defined China as a "systemic rival" as well as an economic competitor, while still calling it a cooperation partner. Bilateral ties have taken a further turn for the worse with the Biden administration trying to co-opt the EU into a pushback against China's rise. The attempt to drive a wedge between China and the EU has brought unprecedented challenges to their mutually beneficial partnership.

Despite their differences, China and the EU share common ground on a wide range of issues including climate change and economic globalization. Both advocate free trade and support multilateralism. It would be in their shared interest if they could resist external interference and continue to push ahead with their win-win cooperation in the pursuit of common good.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who visited China 12 times during her 16 years in office, has the best understanding of how the pragmatic partnership has benefited both the EU and China. In an interview on Wednesday, she said Germany and more broadly the EU should continue to cooperate with China and could learn from one another. "Total decoupling wouldn't be right in my view, it would be damaging for us," she said.

Her words are a beacon of reason in a sea of suspicions, and shed some light on how the EU can best handle relations with China.