Rebooting Europe’s China Strategy

How should Europe respond to the implications of its entanglement with China? The country is an inescapable partner, yet it poses a challenge to the sustainability of our economies, our principles for international action, and ultimately our security. Can Europe avoid a costly decoupling from China and maintain mutually beneficial ties while remaining true to itself, to its values and interests? How can Europe play its cards right while navigating the US-China new “cold war”, and assert itself globally?

To foster the debate raised by these questions, four European China and international relations figures from France, Germany and the UK joined forces to provide a wide-angle assessment of China’s current trajectory and of what is at stake for Europe. Importantly, they cap this analysis with a set of concrete and detailed recommendations addressed to Europe and its decision-makers.

This joint policy paper is published by Institut Montaigne in partnership with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) and the Centre for European Reform (CER).

“Systemic rivalry” is at the core of the relationship

The China challenge is now commonly reduced to a seductively elegant formula, endorsed by the European Union itself, and according to which China is a cooperation partner, an economic competitor and a systemic rival. But can relations with China be neatly compartmentalized? The fact is that systemic rivalry now permeates the other two dimensions, and that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership will always assess cooperation through the lenses of its implications for their systemic rivalry.

Admittedly, cooperation is still attractive with a state that has become the most important trading partner for most countries. Many European companies feel they cannot afford to abandon this market. Cooperation with China is also essential in most global challenges such as climate change, pandemics or the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. But China also aims to project itself globally with a toolbox that includes persuasion, coercion, corruption and cyber action, mixing inducements with threats. There is almost no international commitment or legal obligation that China is not ready to breach if its interests require it. Beijing is also seeking to reform global governance in line with its own preferences and perceived needs. The rivalry is real.


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