European Council President Donald Tusk, Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: AFP/Oliver Hoslet

The New York Times says on Wednesday that the “EU likes Trump’s stance on China, but hates his methods,” citing a handful of experts. Stuck in the middle of Chinese rhetoric of opening up, despite mixed results, and US rhetoric of protectionism, leaders in Europe are hoping that Trump’s bark won’t be followed by bite, while employing “a mix of tactics, strategy and denial.”

“When Trump was elected, a lot of Europeans wondered whether there will be a point where we have to decide between the US and China, and it seems that moment may be now,” Angela Stanzel, a China expert with the European Council on Foreign Relations in Berlin, was quoted as saying.

“I don’t think Europe will side with China — we have the same problems with China as the Americans do,” she argued. “But the EU does agree with the Chinese that Trump is doing it the wrong way and has been outspokenly critical about his methods. A trade war between the US and China would really put Europe on the spot.”

Philippe Le Corre, now working at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, suggests that China is banking on a trans-Atlantic split.

“The Chinese are very, very worried about any kind of trans-Atlantic alliance or even discussions about the rise of China, what it’s doing as an investor or geopolitically,” he said, adding that “Chinese officials are always asking about this.”

Despite Trump’s confrontational approach to China, the fact that he has alienated America’s allies might be the greatest gift he could have given to Beijing.

If the US goes ahead and “declares an all-out war on the WTO and the international free trade system while China becomes its defender,” Stefano Stefanini, a former Italian ambassador said, “the EU will inevitably be pushed on to China’s side.”

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