China obscures Biden’s transatlantic meeting

Of all the differences between the United States and its allies in Europe, the way it deals with China is the most intractable.

Fresh out of the G-7 love-in in Britain, President Biden is in Brussels this week to meet with NATO and European Union leaders. There will no doubt be warmer words of transatlantic harmony on topics like Covid-19, climate change and the importance of democracy.

Beneath the surface, points of disagreement remain. On long-standing issues such as European military spending, digital taxes, steel tariffs, and subsidies for Boeing and Airbus, diplomacy can likely bring progress. Where he will struggle to make significant progress is in reconciling different attitudes towards China.

The weekend’s G-7 communiqué was primarily hawkish on China, but the accompanying commentary underscored the balance the EU must strike. European leaders such as Frenchman Emmanuel Macron and Italian Mario Draghi have stressed the need to cooperate with Beijing.

Attitudes in Brussels towards the Asian nation have hardened, as have in Washington. In 2019, the EU took a big step forward and called China a “systemic rival”. It has since established powers to screen foreign investment and proposed new rules to block takeovers by government-subsidized companies. Central and Eastern European countries have also cooled off on Beijing’s Belt and Road initiative.

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