The G7 are ganging up on China — and Beijing is starting to growl.
China reacted angrily on Thursday to a joint statement issued by the EU and Japan following a virtual leaders’ summit, in which Brussels and Tokyo voiced concern about tensions in the South and East China Seas, where there are longstanding territorial and maritime disputes.
In the joint statement, the EU and Japan also stressed the importance of peace across the Taiwan Strait, and pledged to coordinate closely on regional issues including Hong Kong where the Chinese government has tightened an authoritarian grip as well as Xinjiang, where it has committed grave rights abuses against Uyghurs.
The videoconference between European Council President Charles Michel, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was routine — with the leaders reiterating their friendship and pledging to cooperate on an array of issues including the continuing coronavirus pandemic.
The joint statement was also relatively unremarkable, echoing comments that G7 foreign ministers made in a statement last week. “We remain seriously concerned about the situation in the East and South China Seas and strongly oppose any unilateral attempts to change the status quo and increase tensions,” the leaders said.
But China reacted furiously, insisting that the statement was out of line.
“The remarks made by the EU and Japan have completely gone beyond the norm of developing bilateral relations,” a spokesperson for the Chinese mission to the EU said in a statement. “Such remarks undermine international peace and stability, damage mutual understanding and trust between countries in the region, harm the interests of third parties and run counter to what they claim ‘working for a more secure, democratic and stable world.’”
The statement released by the mission also warned the EU and Japan not to meddle in China’s domestic business.
“Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Xinjiang-related issues are China’s internal affairs,” the statement said. “The East China Sea and the South China Sea concern China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests. All these issues represent China’s fundamental interests and brook no interference. We express our strong discontent with and firm opposition to the remarks in the joint statement of the EU-Japan Summit. China will firmly defend its national sovereignty, security, and development interests.”
China’s anger came a day after U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and European External Action Service Secretary-General Stefano Sannino led teams of diplomats in Brussels for the first meeting of a new high-level U.S.-EU dialogue on China.
For China, the EU’s readiness to openly talk about Taiwan is unsettling, coming so shortly after Suga’s joint statement with U.S. President Biden a month ago, which also touched upon the island’s situation, the first mention of Taiwan Strait in any US-Japanese statement since 1969.
After the meeting, Sherman told reporters that Western allies were intent on forcing changing to adhere to international norms.
“What we have seen over the last year is and I think it has come clear, and clear to all of us, including European partners, is that China has a very aggressive strategy, that it does not always play by the rules of the international order, that it has a different vision for the future, and importantly, has an authoritarian model of governance.”
“We have called out what has happened to the Uyghurs as genocide,” she said. “We have called out as Europe has the incredible takeover of Hong Kong, which is against the agreement that China itself made when Britain handed over Hong Kong. We’ve seen the aggressive actions towards Taiwan.”
Of the new high-level dialogue, she added: “This is important not because we are trying to dominate or to hold back China, that is not our interest at all, our interest is to uphold the rules based international order to make sure that there is a level playing field.”
In a coordinated effort in March, the U.S., U.K., EU, and Canada leveled sanctions against Chinese government officials over the abuses in Xinjiang. And last week the G7 issued a statement seeking to pressure China into cutting emissions from coal, as well as a statement by foreign ministers warning Beijing not against increased tensions.
The G7 have also pledged to work together to curb trade abuses by China as well as to address other concerns, including on technology. G7 leaders are due to gather for a summit in the U.K. in June, where China policy will also be on the agenda.
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