The EU sits involving the devil plus the deep blue water. It could be dragged by Donald Trumps belligerent unilateralism into unnecessary dispute with Asia. Or it may cock a snook at evermore volatile United States president and bow instead before President Xi Jinpings authoritarian regime in Beijing.

The selection is an untrue one. Their frequently heard recommendation that Europes democracies tend to be obliged to simply take edges into the escalating conflict between the United States and China is really as dangerous as it's absurd. Despite having Mr Trump into the White home, there may be no contest when it comes to EU between its alliance aided by the globes most powerful democracy and a communist state that parades its contempt for European values.

For all that, the EU cannot simply let things move. Long lasting political season in Washington, the blocs relationship with China is of powerful strategic and economic effect. Mr Trumps ravings usually do not excuse the present machine. European governing bodies require a China plan a coherent framework to determine a relationship that at once safeguards the continents passions and it is robust sufficient with its own terms to resist periodic turbulence in transatlantic relations.

For most of the past decade, the EU has looked over Asia through prism of economic opportunity a lucrative marketplace for German carmakers and French and Italian luxury goods organizations, and a way to obtain finance for hard-pressed nations in east and central European countries. Beijings transgressions, whether snuffing completely human being liberties home, pushing neighbours from the Southern China Sea or taking intellectual residential property from the western, happen shrugged off. Politicians have allowed on their own become bullied out-of satisfying Tibets religious frontrunner the Dalai Lama.

nothing courted Mr Xi therefore assiduously as Britain, where David Camerons management declared itself Chinas companion in west. No-one stooped therefore low as George Osborne, Mr Camerons chancellor, in bidding for Chinese company. Highly sensitive strategic companies eg nuclear energy and electronic communications were tossed available to Chinese businesses. The Foreign Office had been informed to pipe straight down about human rights in Tibet and Xinjiang and appearance another way as Beijing tightened up its grip on Hong Kong.

the feeling has changed. Chinas decision to abandon all pretence of respect the Joint Declaration dedication to one-country, two systems in Hong Kong has eventually brought a response. Under some pressure from traditional MPs, Boris Johnsons federal government states it will respond to Beijings plans for new protection legislation in Hong Kong by providing entry visas to residents associated with the previous Uk colony. The prime minister additionally plans to dilute Huaweis part in creating a 5G communications system.

Continental European countries has been transferring this path for a while. Germany has actually enforced restrictions on predatory investment in high-tech industries. France states it will probably do also. Mr Xis assertive position inside Southern China Sea and Beijings coercive diplomacy somewhere else have actually prompted the EU to label China a systemic competitor. Now, the change happens to be crystallised by Beijings secretive maneuvering of the coronavirus outbreak, its intense disinformation promotions therefore the clampdown in Hong Kong.

The lacking ingredient, but has been a strategic framework in the EU by which governing bodies can regularly weigh political and protection passions against economic relations. This will disarm Beijings attempts to divide and rule by choosing off unfriendly nations. A set of clear concepts would in addition guide the a reaction to demands, capricious or elsewhere, from Washington for tougher sanctions from the Chinese regime.

the very first point-on this compass is the recognition that Europes values and passions tend to be indivisible. The EU is nothing without its obligations to real human dignity, democracy and the guideline of legislation. To-be not noisy and unapologetic in defence of those values is always to concede the floor to Beijing.

the 2nd leading principle must be framed all over concept of reciprocity. Speed Mr Trump, globalisation is a great thing. European countries and China are both champions from free trade. But safeguarding open areas needs the principles be employed evenly. EU nations should welcome Chinese business and investment to the extent that Beijing respects the guidelines while offering the same access to western organizations. Mr Xi cannot grumble about discrimination against Huawei while outsiders are secured out-of any industry which may touch even remotely Chinas nationwide protection.

the next compass point says the EU and Asia should seek every opportunity to work together to market global public products whether tackling pandemics or perhaps the vast programme of decarbonisation had a need to slow international heating. The invitation to Beijing to be a responsible stakeholder in the intercontinental system must remain on the table. Competition and co-operation need-not be mutually exclusive.

No one should always be naive. Mr Xis China indicates itself ruthless in pursuit of its great-power status and, in sanctions it has now used against Australia, that it's unabashed about using its financial power looking for geopolitical interests. Europe cannot anticipate a comfy commitment with Beijing, nor constantly to trust Washington. It could, if it desires, make its alternatives.

Follow Philip Stephens withmyFT and onTwitter