STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
President Biden's administration has talked of a different way of confronting China. The idea was to work with U.S. allies, including those in Europe, because together they would have more power. Now something new is happening. Here's NPR China correspondent John Ruwitch.
JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: Late last year, China and the European Union agreed to a landmark investment treaty. It was more than seven years in the making. Chinese state TV lauded the agreement.
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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).
RUWITCH: But less than three months later, the future of that deal is in doubt.
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UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: A war of words that's turned into a full blown diplomatic spat between China...
RUWITCH: On Monday, Europe slapped sanctions on four Chinese officials and a police department over what it says are human rights abuses in the Xinjiang region. They were the first EU sanctions on China since the crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. And for the first time, they were coordinated with Britain, Canada and the United States. China's government was indignant and quickly escalated the spat. It sanctioned 10 Europeans by name and four entities, including the EU's foreign policymaking body.
ANDREW SMALL: The response from China was seen to be extremely disproportionate.
RUWITCH: Andrew Small is a senior fellow at The German Marshall Fund in Berlin.
SMALL: I think the expectation had been that the sanctions that had been announced were symbolically important, but they were also relatively modest in scope.
RUWITCH: But from Beijing's perspective, they look like part of a U.S.-led plot. Indeed, the Biden administration has made teaming up with allies a key part of its China strategy. Administration officials have been making sure that China comes up in almost every discussion they have with foreign officials. Small says Beijing is eager to counter that.
SMALL: China has been pushing extremely hard to make sure that precisely this kind of coalition building effort on the U.S. part doesn't succeed. And they've seen the Europeans as tractable when it comes to this. This is why the investment agreement that they signed up to at the end of last year was seen as so important. It was precisely to try to peel the Europeans away from this coalition.
RUWITCH: That agreement, which had detractors all along, appears to be dead in the water for now. Theresa Fallon, director of the Center for Russia Europe Asia Studies, a think tank in Brussels, says China is playing hardball, and it may end up backfiring.
THERESA FALLON: You know, without Biden lifting a finger, China just drove Europe into the arms of America.
RUWITCH: all while Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Europe, a trip that comes less than a week after acrimonious talks with Chinese officials.
FALLON: It remains to be seen how this will pan out, but I really think they're, you know, served on a platter right now. Europe is probably ready to hear what Blinken has to say.
RUWITCH: John Ruwitch, NPR News.
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