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As the United States, under President Donald Trump, retreats from the global stage, the spotlight is on Europe and China as standard bearers of the multilateral, rules-based system.

But can a self-confident Europe and an equally self-assured China work together in this age of uncertainty and unpredictability? Can Europe and China consolidate their bilateral relationship while also working together on crucial questions of global governance – maintaining an open world economy – climate change, security, development? In other words, are China and Europe going to be true strategic partners?

These questions dominated the EU-China Annual Forum on 27 June, and the Policy and Practice Roundtable which was organised the previous day, with participants spotlighting that in a world of constant flux both Europe and China – and the wider world – would greatly benefit if their ties were made more robust and resilient. The events form part of a joint initiative of Friends of Europe and the Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the EU. They brought together policymakers, business representatives and leading academics, with the aim of promoting EU-China engagement and cooperation. Other partners included the China Public Diplomacy Association (CPDA), the China Institute for Reform and Development (CIRD) and the China Daily.

Both China and Europe are on the road to better mutual understanding and have made many promises to work with each other on both the bilateral and multilateral levels. Such commitments are important in view of President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement aiming to reduce trade barriers. Significantly, Chinese President Xi Jinping has underlined that “no one will emerge as a winner in a trade war”. And, following Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, EU and Chinese leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to implement the accord.

China and the EU are responding to threats to free trade and the multilateral rules-based system with renewed efforts to promote their strategic, economic and cultural ties. Much more needs to be done by both sides, however, to make this a more dynamic and rewarding strategic relationship – and to translate good intentions and declarations into actions.

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