Europe-China relations

Europe-China relations

    The relations between the European Union and the People’s Republic of China are in flux. Long-held certainties are eroding. Intensifying great power rivalry between the US and China, both stepping up pressure on the EU, requires Europe to reconsider its policies. In 2019, the European External Action Service released a new "Strategic Outlook" describing China simultaneously as a "partner", "competitor" and a "systemic rival". The European Commission under Ursula von der Leyen has termed itself a “geopolitical Commission”.

    For decades, Europeans hoped that an active engagement strategy would help liberalizing China both economically and politically. From the beginning of diplomatic ties in 1975, EU-China relations gradually expanded into a “comprehensive strategic partnership” comprising an annual summit, three high-level dialogues and more than 60 sectoral dialogue formats covering all kinds of policy areas.

    Since 2016, due to the conjunction of at least three factors in the bilateral relationship, the EU has grown more critical of China. First, the perception of China as an unfair competitor is on the rise in Europe. Second, European assessment of China’s political development under Xi Jinping is negative, including a more nationalistic policy and Beijing’s heavy-handed approach to Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Third, EU officials perceive Chinese diplomacy as undermining European unity – be it in the participation of a sub-regional policy platform (17+1) or by means of interference into EU member states.

    In all my research, I adopt an explicitly European perspective in order to grasp this significant shift in Europe-China relations. I frequently travel to Brussels and other European capitals in order to better understand the transforming relations with the People’s Republic of China. When visiting China, I try to get hold of the Chinese perspectives and policies towards Europe.

    Of crucial importance to my work on Europe-China relations is the cooperation with colleagues across the continent in two research networks: the European Think-tank Network on China (ETNC) that I have been heading as the network’s rotating coordinator in 2018 (and continue to be a participant of), and the China in Europe Research Network (CHERN) in which I serve as the chairman of the working group on high technology and innovation.

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