Global Europe Brief: EU-China rapprochement?

Welcome to EURACTIV’s Global Europe Brief, your weekly update on the EU in the global perspective from our foreign affairs news team: Georgi Gotev and Alexandra Brzozowski.

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‘MASK DIPLOMACY’

The coronavirus pandemic has started to change political certainties across the globe. Beijing strongly condemned US President Donald Trump’s latest habit to call the coronavirus a “Chinese virus” and urged everyone to follow the science instead. At the same time, China has stepped up efforts to send equipment and experts to Europe, now the epicentre of the pandemic.

After surviving its own coronavirus ordeal, Beijing has found itself in the unique position of a country that is able and willing to help all those who ask for or need help. “Chinese anti-coronavirus packages” have arrived in Italy and many other EU member states, including in Spain.

In a Special Edition of the Capitals, our network looks into how China’s ‘mask diplomacy’ has been perceived by the different EU member states facing the COVID-19 crisis.

Critics suggest that Beijing’s “mask diplomacy” aims to build a rapprochement with Europe at a time when collaboration between Brussels and Washington has been poor. However, Zhang Ming, head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, said the fight against the virus had nothing to do with the social system or geopolitics.

In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the world has seen a shift in political and economic power towards China. With the political and economic fallout of the pandemic still unknown, will the world order collapse, or will we adapt to the crisis and its repercussion?

IMAGE OF THE WEEK | The International Olympic Committee (IOC) officially decided to postpone the Tokyo Olympic Games and Paralympic Games for 2021, the first such delay in the Games’ 124-year modern history, 25 March 2020. EPA-EFE/KIMIMASA MAYAMA

EU IN THE WORLD

‘WHITE PEOPLE DISEASE’. EU citizens are facing increasing challenges in trying to return home due to the escalating number of travel restrictions announced across the globe, caused by the huge spike in cases in Europe. Disinformation contributes to the hampered repatriation efforts, as the coronavirus in some cases is presented as a kind of ‘white people disease’, EU’s chief diplomat Josep Borrell said.

FINANCIAL AID. The EU has backed Iran and Venezuela in their requests for emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help them fight the coronavirus outbreak. However, it is widely believed that the US will veto the requested IMF assistance by Iran, while the IMF was quick to reject Venezuela’s bid.

HUMAN RIGHTS PLANS. The European Commission is calling on member states to work together on the world stage to put an end to capital punishment and torture. The details are included in the executive’s communication on the EU Action Plan on Human Rights and Democracy for 2020-2024, for which the Commission is seeking the backing of EU governments.

DEFENCE CORNER

GLOBAL TRUCE. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an ‘immediate global ceasefire’ in the world’s conflict zones in order to protect vulnerable civilians from the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. “The fury of the virus illustrates the folly of war,” the UN chief said, not mentioning any specific country by name. The EU voiced its support for Guterres’ call, while Russia also joined the UN’s appeal for a global ceasefire but listed conflicts by name.

MISSION IMPACT. As Europe has become the epicentre of the pandemic, NATO decided to scale down its military exercises to avoid a further spread but will continue its missions, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said. Nevertheless, he encouraged NATO countries to maintain their military spending despite the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic, suggesting that the military can play a role in helping to mitigate the crisis.

ENLARGEMENT LATEST

GREEN LIGHT. The EU is set to give the green light this week for starting accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania, in a long-awaited move for the Western Balkans after the enlargement process saw months of damaging delays. According to diplomatic sources, last-minute changes were introduced over the weekend as Greece had demanded guarantees for the protection of its national minority in Albania.

GOVERNMENT TOPPLED. Kosovo’s government was toppled by a no-confidence vote less than two months after coming to power, plunging the unstable democracy into political uncertainty as it tries to halt the spread of coronavirus.

EURASIA DIGEST

ACCESS DENIAL. Russian-backed armed formations in the breakaway Donbas region have since Saturday (21 March) denied access to OSCE mission monitoring the conflict, Ukraine’s State Border Guard Service reported. United Nations agencies, NGOs and the International Committee of the Red Cross are also reportedly facing difficulties in accessing the non-government-controlled areas.

FURIOUS FIGHT. Since reporting its first case of coronavirus on 26 February, Georgia has had only 61 confirmed cases of the virus as of 23 March. With 3,320 people placed in mandatory quarantines, the Caucasian country is being lauded as a success story in the global fight against the pandemic, writes EURACTIV’s Vlagyiszlav Makszimov.

US ELECTION WATCH

It’s 222 days until the US Presidential elections and a Gallup poll published on Tuesday (24 March) showed Donald Trump’s overall approval rating rising to match the all-time high of his presidency, at 49%, while 60% of Americans gave him positive reviews for his handling of the coronavirus situation.

What to watch and why it matters: The US has now become the second-hardest hit country by the coronavirus pandemic worldwide. In a rare pivot to seriousness, which contrasted sharply with some of his previous comments on the pandemic, Trump unveiled a 15-day plan to try to flatten the curve of new infections. Just this week, the Senate approved an unprecedented $2 trillion aid bill, which promises payouts to millions of Americans, increases jobless aid and creates a business bailout fund. Historically, polling shows a rallying effect behind a president during national challenges, which means that once the crisis is over numbers could come back to ‘normal’.

WHAT ELSE WE’RE READING 

ON OUR RADAR FOR THE NEXT DAYS…

The regular institutional cycle has temporarily ground to a halt. But we’ll continue to keep you updated on all relevant EU foreign affairs news, as operations start to move exclusively online.
  • NATO foreign ministers meeting (teleconference)
    | Wednesday, 2 April 2020 | Brussels, Belgium

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