US, EU concerned by Beijing's 'problematic, unilateral actions' at sea

WASHINGTON • The United States and European Union voiced strong concerns about China's "problematic and unilateral actions" in the South China Sea and stressed the need for close contact to manage "competition and systemic rivalry" with Beijing.

The joint statement on Thursday followed talks in Washington between US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Secretary-General of the European External Action Service Stefano Sannino.

It "emphasised the importance of the United States and EU maintaining continuous and close contacts on our respective approaches as we invest and grow our economies, cooperate with China where possible, and manage our competition and systemic rivalry with China responsibly".

The statement also said that the two sides discussed rights abuses in China, including the repression of religious minorities in Xinjiang and Tibet, and the erosion of autonomy in Hong Kong.

It said they expressed readiness to deepen US-EU information sharing on disinformation sponsored or supported by China.

"They expressed strong concern over China's problematic and unilateral actions in the South and East China seas and the Taiwan Strait that undermine peace and security in the region and have a direct impact on the security and prosperity of both the US and EU," the statement added.

The statement followed the second meeting of the US-EU Dialogue on China established this year. Ms Sherman and Mr Sannino were due to continue China-related discussions with high-level consultations on the Indo-Pacific yesterday.

US President Joe Biden has stressed the importance of working closely with allies in pushing back against China's growing power and increasingly assertive behaviour worldwide.

A US official briefing ahead of the talks said Washington and Brussels have an "increasingly convergent" view of China's "concerning behaviour".

Speaking separately at a Washington think-tank, Vice-Admiral Herve Blejean, director-general of the EU Military Staff, said there was room for greater coordination to "express our strong desire to defend international law at sea against de facto policies that we've seen in South China Sea".

He told the Centre for Strategic and International Studies that France was a Pacific power and there was interest in the region on the part of other EU members Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark, as well as former EU state Britain.

"We have to look at how we message that together because when we're all united, the power of the message is stronger, and how we interact with like-minded nations doing the same. Australia, the United States, Japan, Asean countries and so on."

He said the EU could look at establishing a "maritime area of interest" in the South China Sea after a pilot project aimed at better coordinating the maritime presence of EU member states in Africa's Gulf of Guinea, while another is being looked at in the northern Indian Ocean.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2021, with the headline US, EU concerned by Beijing's 'problematic, unilateral actions' at sea. Subscribe