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date: 27 November 2020

China and the European Unionlocked

  • Emil KirchnerEmil KirchnerDepartment of Government, University of Essex

Summary

European Union–China relations have despite different histories and values, economic and political development, geographic distance and interests, not only strengthened over time in institutional terms, but also moved beyond the core area of economic interactions to involve political, security and cultural cooperation. On the whole the relationship is based on partnership and neither sees the other as a potential enemy. Both support a strong United Nations, the existing international trade system, the non-proliferation regime, and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change among others. These joint perspectives are particularly valuable given the retreat of President Trump from a number of hitherto US honored international agreements and commitments, such as on multilateralism, arms treaties and international governance. On the down side initial expectations that growing economic interactions between the EU and China would narrow the gap on human rights and democracy issues between the two parties have not materialized and the EU can no longer pretend to shape the China in its own image. There are also a number of unresolved problems affecting the partnership. Among these are disputes over trade imbalances, investment access regulations in China and human rights issues, on the one hand, and the persistent arms embargo sanctions and unfulfilled market access status for China, on the other. Overcoming these is not being helped by existing misperceptions that Europeans and Chinese have about each other. Furthermore, as China continues to gain economically, partly through the Belt and Road Initiative, seeks to broaden its international relations policy with Chinese characteristics, and moves to an aggressive maritime policy in the East and South China Sea, the EU will find the partnership more testing at both the bilateral and multilateral level.

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