Multilateral cooperation call of the times

This is a difficult time for most countries. Perhaps more so for China, the United States and the European Union.

The lingering COVID-19 pandemic and its toll on their economies - the world's three largest - and the post-pandemic global economic prospects are of course part of the reason for that. But the bigger headache is the US' go-it-alone approach to such global issues, which clearly call for cooperation and coordinated actions.

While the US remains Europe's closest foreign and security policy partner, the EU's frustration with the US administration's insular vision has become increasingly apparent.

In its latest display of exasperation, after a videoconference between the foreign ministers of the EU member states and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday, the EU's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the pandemic showed that "global problems need global solutions" and that while multilateral cooperation is needed more than ever, "it is in big demand and short supply".

Which suggests that interpreting the "distinct bilateral dialogue" he proposed the EU and US set up as being intended to form a transatlantic front against China is purely wishful thinking on the part of some China hawks, and that such a dialogue mechanism is unlikely to produce the explicit "anti-China" policies that they would like.

Instead, having developed generally fine relations with China over the past few decades, and having expressed its unwillingness to choose sides, it is far more likely that rather than discussing how to act in concert against China, the EU views such a dialogue mechanism as a means to better inform the US about what China is doing and why, as relations are becoming increasingly fractious between Washington and Beijing because of Washington's insistence on viewing Beijing's actions through an ideological prism.

Borell did speak of the dialogue focusing on what China's actions and ambitions mean for the US and the EU. But while he described them as challenges, he was unlikely to have meant that in the sense that the US defines challenge, which is China making a rival claim to its position of power. For the EU, the challenge seems to be more realistically defined as a test of abilities.

For it is evident that the world is at a crossroad where very difficult choices need to be made. The three parties have got along generally well in the past because they chose to shelve their ideological differences and concentrate on pragmatic cooperation. Now their divergences have come to the fore and there is a risk of a new cold war, or worse a hot one of some sort.

If Brussels can cool Washington's fiery approach to Beijing by convincing it that those differences are not the threat it seems to envision then it might be able to inject a little more reason into that country's discourse on China, which would undoubtedly be a positive and welcome development.

Source:China Daily