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As the EU and China seek to redefine their relationship, and ahead of a key summit in April, Friends of Europe asks, “Can cooperation trump competition?” The response seems to be: cooperation and competition will co-exist. Europe and China will compete when their interests diverge but also find common ground in areas of shared interest and concern.
At the 20 March EU-China Policy & Practice Roundtable, around 40 senior European and Chinese stakeholders from the EU institutions, governments, civil society and the private sector came together to spar over familiar topics, including: market access, industrial subsidies, the 16+1 initiative’s purpose and impact, the global ambition of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and technology transfer. They also had significant exchanges on what US President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy means for global trade and on the reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The briefings from Chinese and European officials were honest, frank and on message, with one senior EU official describing a growing ‘impatience’ in Brussels over talks on an ongoing investment agreement and a ‘stalled’ aviation safety deal. China’s ambassador to the EU, meanwhile, said it would be ‘far-fetched’ to talk about ‘full reciprocity’ of market access, given that China still trails Europe in terms of per capita GDP.
The issues were also covered in the second session during a robust roundtable debate held under the Chatham House rule. While all participants agreed that there is a need to boost transport, investment and infrastructure links, there were also questions about China’s human rights record and the global impact of BRI projects. As one participant said, cooperation is essential, but it is time for the EU and China to learn how to “cooperate on a different basis”.
The Roundtable took place a day ahead of an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, which featured EU-China relations on the agenda, and two weeks before the 21st official EU-China Summit, the last within the European Commission’s current mandate.
- Event summary
- Event page
- Friends of Europe event report “Europe-China Forum: cooperation, competition and the search for common ground”
- Friends of Europe discussion paper “My ASEM wishlist: how Asia and Europe should really be working together”
- “Achieving cooperation through connectivity in EU-China relations: the BRI and beyond” by Paul Irwin Crookes
PHOTO CREDIT: European Council President/Flickr