De-risk, don’t decouple, from the Chinese economy — this was the economic philosophy for the EU articulated by European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen at Davos last month. As organising principles go, it’s not a bad one, certainly better than Brussels’ nebulous “strategic autonomy” or the US’s disingenuous “worker-centred trade policy”.
The EU has for years been attempting to attain and hold a middle ground. On the one side is the official US predilection for using its federal powers to decouple its economy from China’s. (It should be noted that it’s unclear how far this will work: overall US-China goods trade probably hit an all-time record last year.) On the other is the EU’s history of mainly letting commerce with China flow. But despite EU member states increasingly turning against Beijing, Brussels is struggling to construct tools to reduce a perceived dangerous reliance on Chinese trade.