EU diplo chief calls for special China dialogue with US
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EU diplo chief calls for special China dialogue with US

High on the agenda of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's talks with the EU will be the Middle East peace process
High on the agenda of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's talks with the EU will be the Middle East peace process

BRUSSELS - The EU's chief diplomat on Monday called for Europe and the United States to launch talks aimed at forging a common transatlantic front against an increasingly assertive China.

Brussels and Washington are at odds over a range of major global issues, but EU foreign affairs high representative Josep Borrell said the two sides should make common cause "to defend our values and our interest".

Borrell made his call during video talks with the 27 EU foreign ministers and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Borrell told reporters he had suggested launching a "distinct bilateral dialogue" focused on China and the challenges it poses to the EU and US by its "actions and ambitions".

"For us it's important to stay together with the US in order to share concerns and to look for common ground to defend our values and our interest," he said.

The call comes as Europe struggles to calibrate its response to China's growing willingness to throw its weight around under President Xi Jinping.

The meeting kicked off a crunch week for Europe-US relations, with a virtual meeting of NATO defence ministers starting Wednesday already overshadowed by Washington's controversial plans to slash its troop presence in Germany.

US President Donald Trump's "America First" approach has seen ties with Europe lurch from crisis to crisis in recent years, but EU officials feel there should be scope to work together on China.

It is not clear how Washington will receive Borrell's suggestion. The US has pursued a tough-talking approach to Beijing, in contrast to the EU's bid to strike a delicate balance between cooperation, competition and confrontation.

However, the EU has struggled to forge a unified position on China at times, with 27 countries' competing national interests coming to the fore.

After the talks Pompeo tweeted thanks to Borrell, saying the US-EU relationship was "critical to confronting challenges posed by the PRC (China), Russia, and other authoritarian regimes who disregard international norms".

Next Monday will see EU Council President Charles Michel and European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen hold a video summit with Chinese leaders.

- Annexation warning -

The Middle East peace process was also on the agenda, as Brussels seeks to persuade Israel to back down from plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.

The new Israeli government led once again by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has signalled it intends to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, as proposed by Trump, with initial steps to begin from July 1.

Borrell was at pains to praise Trump's Middle East peace plan for injecting long-absent momentum into the process.

A senior EU official said Monday's talks would be the start of three weeks "devoted to strongly reaching out" to all parties to try to stop the annexations, which Brussels says breach international law.

Pompeo has urged the Palestinians to embrace Trump's Middle East peace plan, which promises them an independent but condensed and demilitarised state as well as international investment.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas travelled to Jerusalem last week to tell Israel of Europe's "serious concerns" about the proposed annexations.

Borrell said Pompeo had listened and taken notes as EU ministers outlined their views but had "not accepted or refused anything".

- Court concern -

Europe is also increasingly alarmed by Trump's withdrawal from international institutions and agreements, most recently the World Health Organization and the Open Skies treaty with Russia.

Monday's meeting came after the US leader authorised sanctions against any International Criminal Court official who investigates US troops -- a move that EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said was a matter of "serious concern".

NATO defence ministers hold their own video talks on Wednesday and Thursday, after Washington told Berlin it was considering withdrawing 9,500 troops from the 34,500 currently permanently based in Germany.

Allies will hear from US Defense Secretary Mark Esper while also discussing NATO's coronavirus response and how to handle Russia's growing arsenal of weaponry, including next generation hypersonic missiles.

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