EU sanctions on HK ‘symbolic’

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EU sanctions on HK ‘symbolic’

2020-08-03

Source: Global Times    Published: 2020-07-29


The European Union (EU)'s sanctions on China over the Hong Kong affairs are a "symbolic gesture" to strike a balance between Washington and Beijing, as the measures will only have a limited impact on Hong Kong, observers noted.


However, they warned that the EU should carefully watch its further steps, and avoid tilting to the US, especially as US elections are approaching, because any further provocation against China will only undermine the basis of China-EU relations, which are hailed as a model of pragmatic international relations, and sabotage the bloc's time-honored diplomatic independence.


The EU adopted measures on Tuesday in response to the national security law for Hong Kong, including a ban on exports of specific equipment and technologies considered sensitive for use in Hong Kong.


The bloc said it will work to ease visa and "asylum" opportunities for Hong Kong residents. The EU indicated it could take further steps at the end of the year.


The Chinese mission to the EU on Wednesday said it firmly opposes the EU's decision to impose sanctions on Hong Kong. "We urge the EU to truly respect China's position on safeguarding national security in Hong Kong, and to stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs and China's internal affairs in any way," the Chinese mission said in a statement.


Wang Wenbin, spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry, said that the EU believes that it is a stakeholder and has concerns in Hong Kong and wishes it prosperity and stability. Then it should take concrete steps toward these goals, instead of unilaterally rolling out sanctions that go against this goal.


Wang urged the EU to stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China's domestic affairs, and focus on healthy relations between China and the bloc.


This move was soon interpreted by Western media, including The Wall Street Journal, as the EU inching toward a tough US stance on China.


The bloc's decision can be seen as kowtowing to US pressure, but adopting those measures, which only have a very limited impact on Hong Kong or the Chinese mainland, are only a "symbolic gesture," as it is part of its balancing strategy not to upset too much Washington or Beijing, Sun Keqin, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Wednesday, noting that the bloc will never go as far as Washington or London.


Chris Tang Ping-keung, Commissioner of Police of the Hong Kong Police Force, told the Global Times last week that any sanctions from any country based on political reasons have absolute zero impact on him, and that in terms of training and equipment procurement, the police force has kept in close contact with different places from around the world, rather than focusing on one country.


"I believe Germany and France do not bow to external pressure. They independently shape foreign policies, and this has been the case over the years. And the EU is also making steps to become strategically autonomous," George N. Tzogopoulos, director of EU-China Programmes, and also a senior research fellow at the Center International de Formation Europeenne, told the Global Times.


He said that China and the EU cannot agree on everything, but can collaborate. The EU's public comments on Hong Kong cause understandable frustration for China but - generally speaking - the EU position remains mild.


On July 24, when speaking with his German counterpart Heiko Maas, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi stressed that current difficulties in China-US relations were created by the US, which is attempting to break up China's development process.


Wang told Mass some anti-China forces in the US have maliciously stirred ideological confrontations, and openly coerced other countries to pick sides between China and the US and confront China to serve the selfish interests of the US.


Maas said Germany is ready to strengthen cooperation with China in vaccine development and post-pandemic economic recovery and jointly plan for important high-level exchanges between EU and China for the next step.


Wang made a similar statement when talking to French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian over the phone on Tuesday, criticized US hegemony, saying a certain political faction in the US, driven by the need to lift campaign prospects and maintain unipolar hegemony, are going all out to negate the history of China-US relations, suppress China on every front, provoke China on its core interests.


Both calls were made after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on "democratic nations" to unite against the Chinese Communist Party.


China and the EU, during their long-term interaction with each another, have already adopted a management mechanism, where both sides can sit down and negotiate critical issues, said Sun, citing talks between Wang and Mass, and between Wang and Le Drian.


On one hand, they echo the US and other Western countries, as they share some ideological values; on the other hand, they also prioritize practical policies and economic benefits, and won't go against China on core issues, and hurt their cooperation, said Wang Yiwei, a professor at the School of International Relations of Renmin University of China.


However, observers also warned that as the US gets tougher on China as its election approaches, the EU, being caught in the middle, may take further steps to upset China. "It will undermine relations between Beijing and Brussels, and be a shame for the EU, which has long honored its independent diplomatic policies," Sun said.


The EU should also learn its lesson from the recent rift between China and the US, that China will not yield to threats from the outside world, especially when it comes to sovereignty issues. So by pressuring China on Hong Kong or other core issues, the EU may have lost its reckoning, Sun said.


Wang Yiwei is a professor at the School of International Studies and senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.