The European Union has struggled mightily in recent months to assert itself as a strategically autonomous and relevant actor in response to an increasingly aggressive China.
In April, the EU drafted a report critical of Chinese disinformation efforts related to the spread of the novel coronavirus in Europe, but it bowed to pressure from China and removed most of the criticism leveled at Beijing that had been included in the initial draft, which leaked to the press. The subsequent public criticism led the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, to receive a tongue-lashing at a hearing of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee.
The headlines from that incident had barely faded before Borrell found himself in the same embarrassing predicament again. Earlier this month, the EU’s ambassador to China and 27 other European envoys in Beijing co-authored an op-ed that appeared in Chinese state media. But the EU later admitted its ambassador had yielded to Beijing’s insistence that a line in the op-ed referring to COVID-19’s origin in China be removed. Afterward, Borrell told reporters that “something like this will not happen again, and it was not the right decision to take.”