The European Union’s relations with China are maturing and growing increasingly significant, with new initiatives generating both concrete opportunities for cooperation as well as the potential for disagreement, participants said during robust discussions at Friends of Europe’s eighth Europe-China Forum and Policy & Practice Roundtable on 27-28 November.
The two-day event took place amid rising global uncertainties, as both sides struggle in their relations with the United States. Discussions on both days focused on the reform of China’s markets; joint efforts in clean energy and green technology; strategies to better connect Europe and Asia– in particular, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is developing infrastructure in Asia, Europe and beyond – as well as the EU’s strategy for connecting the continents through better transport, energy, digital and people-to-people links.
While participants agreed that many opportunities already exist for enhancing cooperation between Europe and China – including collective work on Africa, climate change, connectivity and UN Sustainable Development Goals – many of these areas also generate differences. A lack of transparency in BRI dealings, for example, is contributing to trust issues between European and Chinese policymakers and practitioners. Creating the conditions for greater trust is a prerequisite for increased cooperation and synergies between the two.
Meanwhile, European companies are calling for more ambitious market liberalisation and reform in China, which has seen unparalleled growth and development since it opened up to the world 40 years ago. European companies have been active participants in this growth but say that they find the Chinese market difficult to enter and face discrimination when they do business there. The potential for developing EU-China relations is especially striking given that China and the US are mired in a trade dispute, with Europe’s security relationship to Washington also going through a period of significant strain.
“European capital and technology have contributed a lot to China, and cooperation with China has contributed a lot to European growth. There are synergies between the BRI and the EU connectivity strategy,” said Zhang Ming, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the EU, highlighting the boom in trade and investment between China and the EU, the surge in flights and the increasing use of rail links for shipping goods as developments that exemplify this progress. “Confucius said a man of 40 no longer has doubts. After a journey of over 40 years, China-EU relations have become more mature.”
For Europe, uncertainties over its relationship to the US have increased the significance of other international links, such as those with China. “We certainly want to cooperate with China, and we do on many issues,” said Gunnar Wiegand, Managing Director for Asia Pacific at the European External Action Service (EEAS). “We compete in many fields – in high tech and over economic challenges – and we disagree over the ways societies are organised. But the capacity to find common ground is a sign of the maturity of the actors. The strong commitment of Asians and Europeans to a rules-based international order with the UN at its core is an expression of both principles and interests.” He added that it is important for the sake of credibility to make progress beyond principles on specific issues – Geographic Indications (GI) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), for example, which are the subject of ongoing negotiations.
China is undergoing a wave of reforms that is making it easier for European businesses to participate in its economy, said Chi Fulin, President of the China Institute for Reform and Development (CIRD). State-owned enterprises are being restructured and rules on foreign ownership of Chinese companies are being relaxed. “There will be a lot of opportunities from the China-EU relationship, and these are bigger than the challenges,” he said. “The complementarity is bigger than the differences.”
Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of China’s opening up, the 5th edition of the Europe-China Policy & Practice Roundtable will be held on 27 November.
The by-invitation-only roundtable will bring together around 30 Chinese and European scholars, think tank representatives, policymakers and business representatives for an open and lively debate on relations between Europe and China. As disruptions continue to shake the international landscape, can the two simultaneously work together to tackle disruptive forces like the Iranian and North Korean nuclear crises, and to ensure that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and other global connectivity projects are in keeping with the Sustainable Development Goals’ focus on environmental and fiscal sustainability?
Participants will answer these and other questions as they consider the way forward for Europe-China cooperation in maintaining a rules-based multilateral order and engaging in connectivity projects. Recommendations from this roundtable will be brought into discussion with a wider audience during the 28 November Europe-China Forum. Click here to view the full Forum programme.
Interested in learning more?
“EU-Asia trade – the bright future ahead” by Jean-Luc Demarty
“It’s time for a united Europe to stand up to China” by Neena Gill
“The new logic of China’s global influence” by Chunrong Liu
“As Trump embarks on Asia trip, it’s Europe that is really pivoting to Asia” by Shada Islam
Disruptions continue to shake the global landscape, demanding a reassessment and review of traditional alliances, established diplomatic pathways and existing blueprints for crisis management. As the world becomes a more uncertain and unpredictable place, with multilateral global governance under threat from many sides, countries face a choice between engaging in damaging power struggles or – despite their differences – choosing to work together to tackle common challenges. With the United States in apparent retreat from the international stage, the European Union and China have made clear that they favour cooperation over confrontation and share a joint interest in maintaining a rules-based multilateral order. EU-China cooperation is vital in seeking a peaceful resolution of the Iran and North Korean nuclear programmes, as well as implementing Agenda 2030 and bolstering the global trade system.
- How effectively have China and the EU worked together to tackle the Iranian and North Korean nuclear crises?
- Given their joint interest and important trade and aid programmes in Africa, what is the potential for stronger China-Europe-Africa cooperation?
- With multilateral frameworks including the UN institutions and the World Trade Organisation under strain due to new US approaches, are China and the EU ready to join forces to safeguard the international rulebook?
The EU and China are committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which aim to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. Tackling climate change is also a priority for both. China and Europe are also both engaged in connectivity projects. One of the key aims of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is to foster economic and social development in participating countries. Meanwhile, having played an important role in shaping the 2030 Agenda, the EU has put it at the centre of its development policies and has built its own blueprint for promoting greater connectivity in an efficient, transparent and sustainable manner.
- How can China and Europe work together to ensure that the BRI and other global connectivity projects are in keeping with the SDGs’ focus on environmental and fiscal sustainability?
- In what way does the 16+1 cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European states impact on the wider EU-China relations especially as regards the BRI?
- What are the possibilities of China-EU cooperation to tackle global challenges such as extreme poverty, climate change and connectivity?
- By Chris Kremidas Courtney
- By Jane Burston
- By Nona Zicherman
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