EU chief urges caution in tech trade with China

BRUSSELS (AP): The European Union must be prepared to develop measures to protect trade and investment that China might exploit for its own security and military purposes, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned on Thursday.

Speaking before a trip to China planned for next week, von der Leyen said that it’s important to stop “sensitive technologies” that could be used in security crackdowns or to restrict human rights from falling into Beijing’s hands.

“China’s changing policies may require us to develop new defensive tools for some critical sectors,” she said. “Where dual-use purposes cannot be excluded or human rights might be implicated, there will need to be a clear line on whether investments or exports are in our own security interests.”

The commission, the EU’s executive branch, manages international trade on behalf of the 27 member countries and defends their interests at the World Trade Organization.

Von der Leyen said that the EU should focus its defenses on “sensitive high-tech areas” like microelectronics, quantum computing, robotics, artificial intelligence and the biotech sector.

“We need to ensure that our companies’ capital, expertise, and knowledge are not used to enhance the military and intelligence capabilities of those who are also systemic rivals,” she told academics at an event run by the European Policy Centre think tank and the Mercator Institute for China Studies.

 “We have to look at where there are gaps in our toolbox which allow the leakage of emerging and sensitive technologies through investments in other countries,” von der Leyen said. The focus, she said, should be on tech that “can lead to the development of military capabilities that pose risks to national security.”

The commission president’s speech comes as the EU reconsiders its frequently testy relations with China, notably in light of Beijing’s support for Russia’s war on Ukraine. Von der Leyen said, though, that it’s important not to cut political, economic or scientific ties with such a “vital trading partner.”

French President Emmanuel Macron is also due to travel to China next week and will take part in some events involving von der Leyen. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez was set to visit Beijing on Thursday and Friday at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping.