The EU’s foreign policy chief told a group of German envoys that the dawn of an Asian century would mean a diminished role for the US.
Josep Borrell created a diplomatic headache as Germany prepares to take over the presidency of the EU and of the UN Security Council in July.
“Analysts have long talked about the end of an American-led system and the arrival of an Asian century,” Mr Borrell told the ambassadors.
“This is now happening in front of our eyes.”
The former Spanish foreign minister said the EU needed to “follow our own interests and values and avoid being instrumentalised by one or the other”.
Mr Borrell said the “pressure to choose sides is growing”.
Shortly after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, Brussels gave a warning about an information battle with Beijing and Moscow.
At the same time, European officials said that Brussels could no longer look to Washington for clear global leadership.
The US has hit out repeatedly at China over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, emphasising its support for traditional allies such as the EU.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Beijing posed a challenge to the world beyond the current pandemic.
Mr Borrell said US-China rivalry was “having a major, often paralysing effect on the multilateral system".
"In the UN Security Council, the G20, the WHO and elsewhere, there are many more disagreements and vetoes and fewer agreements," he said.
Mr Borrell said that while China’s fast rise on the global stage was impressive, there was a lack of trust, transparency and reciprocity between Beijing and Brussels.
“We only have a chance if we deal with China with collective discipline,” he said.
“We need a more robust strategy for China, which also requires better relations with the rest of democratic Asia.”
Speaking by video link Heiko Maas, Germany’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, echoed Mr Borrell’s call for greater transparency from China.
Mr Borrell also said that moving into a new phase of shifting global power, the EU needed to evaluate its approach to Moscow.
“We also need a frank discussion on how to handle a Russia that feels emboldened to challenge important common European security interests,” he said.
“We need to have a selective engagement with Russia on the issues that matter to us.”