Von der Leyen formulates tough China strategy, but also wants to keep the channels open


In the interests of security, the European Union must be able to restrict the export of strategic goods to China. To this end, the European Commission will develop ‘new defensive instruments’. These instruments could also prohibit investment in China.

Later this year, the Commission will present an economic security strategy. This was stated by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday in a speech in Brussels for Think Tanks Mercator Institute for China Studies and European Policy Centre. The export restrictions could be introduced in areas such as microelectronics, quantum computers, robots, artificial intelligence and biotechnology.

If European investments and export goods can also be used for military applications by China, “there must be a clear line as to whether investments and exports are in our own security interests,” said Von der Leyen. Trade with China should also be restricted if human rights are at stake. Recently, the Netherlands stopped the export of chip machines from ASML to China, under pressure from America. In the future, there should be clear European rules for such cases.

Von der Leyen will travel to Beijing next week, together with French president Emmanuel Macron. They will talk to Chinese president Xi Jinping about China’s role in the war in Ukraine and the relationship between the EU and China. The EU is in a difficult position because the United States is increasingly opting for a tough confrontation with China. Increasingly, they demand loyalty from the EU, which depends on the Americans for its security. However, Europe is also dependent on China, for trade and the raw materials that are essential for the green transition. As a result, the EU is in danger of being caught between the US and China.

In her speech, Von der Leyen tried to combine a hard line towards China with an attempt to keep the channels open. She denounced the increasing repression in China, the violation of Human Rights in Xinjiang and the military display of power in the South China Sea. In particular, she criticized the Chinese role in the war in Ukraine.

Chinese President Xi “is not repelled by the horrific and illegal invasion,” but maintains his “friendship without borders with Putin’s Russia,” Von der Leyen said. The recently presented Chinese “peace plan” cannot be called serious, she argued, because it does not call for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. “How China deals with Putin’s war will be a decisive factor for the future of the EU-China relationship,” Von der Leyen said.

On the other hand, she sought dialogue with China in her speech, because the EU wants to continue to cooperate, for example in the field of climate and nature protection. In other areas, too, the EU does not want to completely detach itself from China, but does want to reduce its unilateral dependence on the Chinese. Therefore, the EU wants to produce at least 40 percent of green technology, such as solar panels or wind turbines, itself by 2030.

The green transition requires raw materials that are currently mainly sourced from China, as Von der Leyen underlined. Europe imports 98 percent of its rare earth metals and 97 percent of its lithium from China. These supply lines need to be diversified, including through free trade agreements with Australia, New Zealand, the Asean countries in Southeast Asia and South America.