China and the European Union

Amr Wagdy
Wednesday 26 Oct 2022

Despite the importance of ties between China and the European Union, some European policy-makers have been damaging the China-EU relationship.

 

China and the EU are two important poles of the multi-polar world. Both bear a great responsibility for safeguarding world peace and promoting shared development. A harmonious relationship of friendship and cooperation between China and the EU will result not only in promoting the interests of the two sides, but also of the world as a whole.

China emerged as a rising power at the end of the 1970s, and it has since achieved tangible results in most political, economic, and social fields. Policy makers in the EU have been convinced of its importance as a rising power driving the global economy, and the notion that China represented a threat has faded. 

Based on this conviction, relations began to develop between China and the EU, which has extensive development experience.

A Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between China and the EU was established in 2003. Since then, the leaders of both have held an annual meeting every year, an occasion on which they exchange views on the bilateral relationship and international and regional issues of common interest. 

In addition, both sides have established more than 70 consultation and dialogue mechanisms that cover political, economic, commercial, development and other areas. Numerous contacts have served to foster mutual trust and partnerships between China and the EU, bringing remarkable benefits to the world from both sides.

The ninth round of the high-level economic and trade dialogue between China and the EU was held in July 2022, in which both sides agreed to improve communication and coordination on macroeconomic policies, maintain stability in global supply chains and improve compliance with the multilateral trade mechanism of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

 The aim has been to facilitate free trade and investment, promote fair competition, protect intellectual property rights, and improve the business environment.

Both China and the EU are each other’s most important trading partner, import source, and export market. Their bilateral trade totalled $828 billion in 2021, with growth of 27.5 per cent. The volume of EU trade with China during the same year amounted to $586 billion, or about $31 billion more than the volume of European trade with the US at $555 billion. 

China overtook the US in 2021 to become the EU’s leading trading partner.

Achieving these results in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic indicates the high level of complementarity and coordination in the economic and commercial relationship between the two sides. However, due to the policy of containment and the blockade against China applied by the US, the relationship between China and the EU has been impacted and competition has intensified to the point of confrontation between the two sides. 

Some European politicians make irresponsible comments about China’s political system. Some EU member states have repeatedly and unreasonably criticised the human rights situation in China. Furthermore, the EU practises unilateral sanctions against Chinese individuals and entities due to the so-called existence of “forced labour” in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, a falsehood spread by anti-Chinese elements. 

Faced with such provocations from the European side, the Chinese have had no choice but to launch a strong counter-attack in the form of sanctions against European individuals and institutions.

Some EU countries have also challenged China on the Taiwan issue. Lithuania, breaking its political promises to China, allowed the opening of a Taiwanese Representative Office on its territory, openly violating the “One China” principle. The EU, instead of urging Lithuania to correct its course, has been criticising China. 

After the visit by US Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan and the countermeasures taken by the Chinese side, the EU high-level foreign policy representative, together with G7 group of countries foreign ministers, released a joint statement in which they called the Chinese countermeasures a way of aggravating tensions and undermining stability in the region instead of criticising Pelosi for her violation of Chinese sovereignty. 

The European side, in its confusion, has thus once again damaged the China-EU relationship.

In the economic and commercial sphere, the EU has launched an inspection mechanism before the sale of companies to China and foreign investments in China. It has launched policies against foreign government subsidies and so-called economic coercion. In this way, it has been limiting the operations of Chinese companies on European territory. 

In addition, some European governments have used security as a pretext to exclude Chinese companies from building the 5G mobile-phone network in Europe. The European Parliament, for political reasons, has frozen debate on the approval of the China-EU Bilateral Investment Agreement, an action that means curbing economic and commercial cooperation between the two sides. 

The interests of business and the people of Europe will be harmed by these actions.

Humanity is now under threat from multiple risks such as wars, climate change, energy and food security, and the Covid-19 pandemic, among others. It is more urgent than ever to strengthen coordination and collaboration between China and the EU to face up to these global challenges. To achieve that goal, European leaders should recognise the special importance of the relationship with China. They should break free from ideological constraints, move away from the new cold war mentality, practise true strategic autonomy, and work together with the Chinese side to ensure stability in the bilateral relationship.

China and the EU urgently need to work together in the following fields. First, they must work to safeguard world peace and stability. Both sides must defend the international system that maintains the UN as its core, the world order founded on international law, and the fundamental norms of interstate relations based on the objectives and principles embodied in the UN Charter. They must jointly reject a confrontational bloc mentality and the new Cold War. They must push the international community to create favourable conditions for the process of negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, and thus open space for a political solution to the crisis in Ukraine.

Second, they must promote shared development. Both sides should continue to push the approval process of the China-EU Bilateral Investment Agreement forward and offer a fair, transparent, and non-discriminatory environment for the investment of the other side. They should also carry out tripartite cooperation to share benefits with the developing countries. The two sides need to seek more synergies in their development strategies and explore more integration between China’s development philosophy and the EU’s trade policy.

Third, they must fight global challenges. China and the EU should strengthen their collaboration in such fields as climate change, the protection of biodiversity, the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, and assisting the developing countries in achieving the reduction and eventual elimination of poverty.


* The writer is human rights officer at the Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 27 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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