For years, Europeans have been trying to compartmentalise their policy towards China. Contentious issues such as trade, 5G, Hong Kong or the South China Sea were treated as individual cases to avoid giving a blanket response to the China challenge.
This, however, could become a thing of the past.
During his recent trip to five European capitals, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi was met with unveiled scepticism – which was not the only indication that the winds have changed.
The message the Chinese emissary wanted to convey was quite clear: Beijing wants to present itself as the better partner than Washington, and Mr Wang made a number of overtures in this regard.
He advocated more cooperation in the areas of health, climate change and the 5G network. He also said China wanted better, more stable and more mature relations with the European Union.
The response from German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was rather cool: he called out Beijing on its new national security legislation for Hong Kong and human rights violations in China’s north-western region of Xinjiang.
With regard to Hong Kong, Mr Maas made clear that Germany and the EU were sticking to the “one country, two systems” principle. He further asked China to grant a UN observer mission access to the so-called reeducation camps.
In a show of closing of ranks in Europe, Mr Maas also stressed that China’s threats against the Czech Republic would not be tolerated. He was referring to Mr Wang’s statement about a trip to Taiwan by a top Czech parliamentarian.