China is facing unprecedented global challenges. Since the new U.S. government took over, initial hopes of an improvement in bilateral relations have faded and it seems the potential fields of conflict are on the rise. The focus on the bilateral trade relationship has given way to a much more profound conflict over future technological and geopolitical leadership. The U.S. now sees China as a strategic competitor. Along with deteriorating bilateral relations with the U.S., China is facing increasing pressure globally on human-rights violations, regional military actions and other issues. A key trigger for Western countries’ changed attitude was the implementation of the Hong Kong security law in mid-2020 and more recently human-rights issues related to the Muslim Uyghur minority. At the G7 meeting in the spring the U.S. called for the major democracies to unite against the rise of autocracies and the Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative was introduced as a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which focuses on increasing China’s influence in developing countries through the development of large infrastructure projects.
Europe is more reluctant to confront China in a systematic way as it sees it as a necessary economic partner and not as a strategic threat, but Europe is fully on board with sanctions on human-rights violations. The Chinese-European Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), has been put on hold. This was after it had been agreed in December 2020 after eight years of negotiations and originally expected to be ratified by the necessary number of EU member states by end of this year. This was a reaction to Chinese countermeasures against members of the European Parliament after the EU decided to invoke sanctions on human-rights violations. Still, Germany and France are interested in maintaining a dialogue with China and getting the investment deal through. A potential further obstacle for China is a new law in Germany (and similar laws may be passed at EU level) to make German or European firms responsible for any co-operation with Chinese counterparts using forced labor schemes or failing to adhere to other labor laws.
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