The European Union’s New Defensive Approach Toward A Rising China


Chinese officials have repeatedly called for closer cooperation with Europe, but the era of Covid-19 has made relations between China and the European Union strained to an unprecedented low level since the two countries formally established diplomatic relations 45 years ago.

Instead of celebrating, the June 22nd annual summit between the European Union and China It has shown irreconcilable disagreements on issues such as Hong Kong’s newly announced National Security Act, cybersecurity and human rights. In addition, nothing has appeared noticeably decisive on the economic front, as China has not heeded the European Union’s call to finalize the much-needed Joint Investment Agreement, and address government support and procurement issues.

Cooperation on other important topics such as climate change, global governance (including WTO reform), and sustainable development appears to be limited to pure rhetoric rather than concrete actions on the part of the Chinese side. Even China-Europe cooperation on vaccines related to Covid remains modest.

When Europe hardens its tone

In place of the joint EU-China final statement, two different statements were issued in June, following the summit. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, advertiser “The relationship between the European Union and China is at the same time one of the most strategically important relations and one of the most difficult for us,” adding that the relationship with China “was not easy.”

As for Chinese President Xi Jinping, he has insisted that China “wants peace rather than hegemony”, and Added, “Regardless of how the international situation changes, China will take the aspect of multilateralism and adhere to the concept of global governance of intensive consultation, common contribution and mutual benefits.”

Comments like these reveal the sense that Europeans are trying their luck with a different approach to China, more defensive if not confrontational. Indeed, politicians may not have a choice after Covid-19. European public opinion consistently views the Chinese government as being most responsible for the severity of the epidemic. According to a recent poll, 60% of French and British and 47% of Germans view the Chinese government as the Negative impact in the world Their opinion worsened during the pandemic. In contrast to the 2008-2010 financial crisis, which led to multiple acquisitions by Chinese state-owned companies in southern Europe, this time Europeans seem not to be attracted to potential Chinese investments. Chinese investors are currently unwilling to invest: China’s share of FDI shares is less than 3% on average across the European Union.

Meanwhile, controversy over Chinese medical aid during the height of the epidemic has led to more confusion and backsliding on the part of European politicians.

China is from a partner to a “systemic competitor” to Europe

Early this year, officials in Brussels were still hoping that Germany would host a 27 + 1 summit in Leipzig with Xi Jinping. Angela Merkel’s approach has largely revolved around light criticism and face-saving drills toward Chinese leaders, and this had a lot to do with the somewhat balanced trade relationship between the two countries. For years, the demand for German machinery and machine tools has been high in fast-growing China, which has increased the profitability of many German industrial companies.

Some experts feel Merkel’s reluctance to antagonize Beijing’s risks Undermining the EU’s push for a common policy toward China And to perpetuate a position where member states are primarily concerned with their own interests, often at the expense of a common European front. For now, the Leipzig summit has been postponed indefinitely due to lack of progress with China.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CL) and Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang (CR) during the German-Chinese Dialogue Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 6, 2019.
Andrea Verdelli / Agence France-Presse

Over the past three years, the European Union has embarked on a more pragmatic approach to China. It has pushed for better coordination and defense on economic issues, including foreign direct investment, state aid, and technology transfer. Not only has the European Commission created a new mechanism to check foreign direct investment, to be put into operation in October, it has also issued guidelines on 5G technology and a white paper on foreign subsidies. In addition, it launched a communication strategy with the hope of providing a European alternative to China’s “Belt and Road Initiative”.

2019 was taken as the year turning point In the bilateral relations between the European Union and China, with the publication of the strategic forecasts between the European Union and China in March, which China described as a ‘Systematic competitor’.

The hypothetical summit between Xi Jinping and Ursula von der Leyen was eventually held, but the lack of progress created growing frustration among European leaders, after major propaganda efforts from Beijing to advance its agenda, including its handling of the pandemic, through social media. Media and websites of the Chinese embassy. this is Battle narratives Josep Borrell, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs, has addressed directly on several occasions. A report on misinformation has been released by the European External Action Service. In its recent statement, von der Leyen also referred to the committee’s growing concerns about “cyberattacks on computing systems and hospitals”.

Is it possible to take a common transatlantic approach to China?

The tougher rhetoric from Brussels is a far cry from the Trump administration’s hard-line approach, as the latter has been accompanied by trade sanctions and restrictions against Chinese companies on US soil, including Huawei.

The language from Washington may not be very diplomatic, but it also reflects Capitol Hill’s hard-line approach and has prompted U.S. allies – including the majority of Europeans – to reassert their approach to China’s rise. On both sides of the Atlantic, major moves are unlikely between now and the presidential election in November. Should Joe Biden He is elected president, some changes that lead to a more transatlantic approach can be expected.

As for China, ultimately it sees its relationship with the United States as its first priority, which explains Beijing’s current wait-and-see stance.

A copy of this text has been published by the Institute for International Political Studies (Italy).

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