Reinhard Bütikofer, a influential member of the European Parliament (EP), warned that Europe still shows naivety in its relations with China and needs to learn from its past national security failures with Russia in order to successfully manage its relationship with Beijing in the future. Bütikofer, who leads the European Parliament’s delegation on China, has become one of the EU’s fiercest critics when it comes to China. He often speaks out against China’s policies towards Taiwan and its economic coercion against individual countries, such as Lithuania in 2021. He criticized China for supporting Moscow while claiming neutrality in the Ukrainian Russian invasion. The German politician, who was the co-leader of the country’s Green Party before his Brussels career, says he strongly objects to this behavior. In an extensive interview with Radio Free Europe, he criticized Beijing’s double-faced approach to the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine and stated that the EU needs to apply the hard lessons it learned from its dependence on Russian energy to influence its current reliance on the Chinese market and vital supply chains in strategic industries. He said, „I think we can rightly say that the experiences with Russia have given us a lesson that we must also apply to our relations with China – China supports Russia, it does not want Russia to lose out significantly. I do not see them being anywhere near a neutral position. They are trying to benefit from the war in Ukraine.” The question of managing long-term relations with China has taken on a new dimension within the EU since the start of the war in Ukraine and has led to uncomfortable conversations in Brussels about the bloc’s relationship with the world’s second-largest economy. While Beijing has refrained from providing armed military support to Moscow in the Ukrainian conflict, it has provided critical economic lifelines to Russia: Chinese customs data show increasing trade in dual-use commercial goods converted for military purposes, as well as smaller volumes of arms shipments by Chinese private suppliers. Beijing has also made global diplomatic efforts to position itself as a peacemaker. In February, it unveiled a 12-point plan for peace talks between Moscow and Kiev, which was criticized in the West for seeking to freeze the conflict along lines favorable to Moscow, but received support from global South. In August, China also participated in diplomatic talks held in Saudi Arabia, which focused on the war in Ukraine. „China cannot be excluded, they want to sit at the table” – said Bütikofer. „But they are there for their own interests, as well as to negotiate a result that is beneficial to Russian President Vladimir Putin.” There is a noticeable change in Brussels. European politicians are grappling with how to handle Beijing. They are under great pressure to protect their economies from the whims of the Chinese Communist Party and to take seriously the security risks of the alliance between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Putin. At the same time, EU ventures are buoyed by China’s €230 billion worth of annual exports. Germany avoids upsetting its massive Chinese business interests – the country has been its largest trading partner over the past six years, and Beijing has gained greater importance following the collapse of dealings with Russia under additional sanctions since February 2022. France, the EU’s other main pillar, is skeptical of the US approach, which focuses on increasing pressure on Beijing and limiting Western economic exposure to China. „Of course, dependence on China is not just limited to one issue, like Russia’s case with fossil energy supply” – said Bütikofer. „It is much broader here, making it more difficult to handle.” Despite the lack of cohesion in the bloc of its 27 member states, Brussels is more actively developing new policies to counter China. The EU has formulated a new strategy for the Indo-Pacific region, in which it increasingly presents China as a long-term rival. In March, Ursula von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, called for a reassessment of the bloc’s relationship with China. She warned that „we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that China is not only an economic partner, but also a systemic rival.” In June, the European Commission published an action plan on economic security, and in July, the German government announced its new China strategy. Both outlined a tougher approach towards Beijing. Brussels has also found common ground with Washington in what it calls „risk diversification” from the Chinese economy, as opposed to decoupling, which is part of the US approach. The Brussels practice calls for limiting economic dependencies on China in certain strategic areas, rather than advocating for broader efforts to disengage from the Chinese economy. Bütikofer believes this momentum is largely a result of Beijing’s aggressive actions against Brussels and some member states in recent years. He specifically refers to the 2021 episode when Beijing blacklisted a group of European lawmakers, experts, and diplomats (including himself) in response to the EU sanctions against four Chinese officials over human rights violations in Xinjiang. This incident resulted in the freezing of the EU-China investment deal. China tried to revive it, reportedly offering to lift the sanctions in exchange for Brussels ratifying the trade deal. Bütikofer called these attempts a „pipe dream,” adding that the deal is now „as dead as a rock.” „There is no illusion in Brussels that China is just a partner” – he said. „Within a relatively short period of time, China has managed to create a high degree of suspicion and resentment.” Bütikofer has been at the forefront of this shift, but he says „no one moves the needle alone.” He points out that the new direction on China has received support among political parties in the European Parliament and elsewhere in Brussels. He does not plan to run for re-election in 2024. Janka Oertel, the Asia Director at the Berlin-based think tank European Council on Foreign Relations and a well-known China expert, announced in June that she will run on the German Green Party’s list for the 2024 European Parliament elections. Bütikofer offered his support. „We have managed to build a common position on China policy” – said Bütikofer. „I am convinced that this is not superficial, and of course I expect it to endure.” Whether this is true will be seen as we get closer to 2024. Presidential elections in the United States and Taiwan next year could shape policy on both sides of the Atlantic, while EU-level votes and the European Parliament elections will determine whether Brussels’ current approach is permanent or temporary. For the veteran German politician, the direction is clear. „We will not return to the age of illusions” – he said.