China Power

Can China and the EU Boost Defense Cooperation?

While in Beijing, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini pledges more security and defense cooperation with China.

Can China and the EU Boost Defense Cooperation?

Li Keqiang at an event in Europe in 2012

Credit: Flickr/ Friends of Europe

The European Union’s foreign affairs and security policy chief, Federica Mogherini, met with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi in Beijing today for a high-level strategic dialogue. For Mogherini, who assumed her current post in November 2014, this trip marked her first official visit to China. The two diplomats discussed a wide range of issues, from climate change to defense cooperation. In terms of global hot spots, the conversation touched on Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, Libya (in the context of the on-going migrant crisis), and Iran.

To date, China and the EU have enjoyed far more success on the economic front of their relationship than on security cooperation. Premier Li Keqiang, who is responsible for economic policy, has been a frequent visitor to the region. However, both sides understand how important such cooperation can be if realized. “[W]e can play a joint role on regional and global challenges and issues, for the mutual benefit of our people,” Mogherini said during a joint press meeting with Yang. “Even if geographically we are far away from each other, still we all know very well that global issues have no borders.”

Mogherini also highlighted the existing areas of security cooperation between China and the EU, pointing to “the extremely successful cooperation … on fighting piracy in the Gulf of Aden.” She and Yang discussed “concrete possibilities” for building on the cooperation in the security and defense realm, she added.

Mogherini also thanked China for its “extremely constructive and useful role” in the Iran nuclear talks and said that China has a “very important role to play” in helping ameliorate human trafficking and smuggling in the Mediterranean.

On climate change, Mogherini said that the EU “appreciates very much the role that China has been playing and is playing.” Ensuring that this year’s conference on climate change is successful is “a common and joint responsibility,” she added. Yang said that China and the EU would expand their cooperation on climate change as the two sides prepare for the China-EU summit, to be held in Brussels in late June.

Mogherini said that the June summit would also provide an opportunity to move forward on “synergies between our respective infrastructure and connectivity policies.” China’s “One Belt, One Road” project seeks to build up infrastructure and trade connectivity from East Asia to Europe, both on land and at sea. Mogherini held up the possibility of linking the “belt and road” with Europe’s own Fund for Strategic Investment, which seeks to invest in strategic and transport infrastructure. Many EU countries have already shown their support for China’s belt and road project by joining on to the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) earlier this year.

Cooperation on infrastructure, however, is a far cry from the sort of security and defense cooperation that Mogherini discussed with Yang. China and the EU have a number of common interests where they could realistically cooperate – on continued anti-piracy operations, for example, as well as anti-terrorism – but on broader geostrategic issues the two sides often don’t see eye to eye. And the EU will not want to get caught between China and the United States on security-related issues.