EU action plan shows China a stimulus for unified stance on internal differences


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EU action plan shows China a stimulus for unified stance on internal differences


Source: Global Times    Published: 2019-3-13

The EU's newly proposed action plan, which seeks more balanced relations with China, reflects its ambivalent attitude toward China's rising geopolitical and economic position, and China-EU relations will be defined by cooperative competition in the future, analysts said on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the European Commission reviewed its relations with China, taking into consideration the growing economic power and political influence of the world's second-largest economy. The commission also suggested 10 concrete actions for EU member states to discuss.

The proposal includes strengthening reciprocal economic ties, enhancing domestic policies and industrial bases in the EU, further engaging on international affairs such as fighting climate change, safeguarding peace and security in Iran and other issues, according to a statement on the website of the commission.

China is also described as a systemic rival to EU member states, who were urged to adopt a full unity in tackling China-related issues.

China has always viewed and developed its relations with the EU from a strategic and long-term perspective, and it is willing to continuously enhance mutual understanding and promote pragmatic cooperation with the EU, Lu Kang, spokesperson of Chinese Foreign Ministry, told a press briefing on Wednesday.

It is hoped that the EU will also treat China's development and the new round of reform and opening-up fairly, objectively, rationally and impartially, and work with China continuously, he added.

"China and the EU maintain constructive dialogue in all of these areas," he said, commentating on the EU's action plan involving 10 issues.

"Clearly, China has become a stimulus for the EU to come up with a unified stance to tackle internal divergences," Wang Yiwei, a professor from the School of International Relations at Renmin University of China, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

The EU adopted an approach of strengthening Euro-Asian connectivity in October 2018, a move widely considered as its effort to counter the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in the region. Five months later, EU regulators are shifting their focus to a rethink of the bloc's industrial policies to remain competitive.

As it sees China as a rising power in both geopolitical and economic terms, the EU now emphasizes more a "fair and reciprocal" relationship with Beijing, based on its own interests, Wang said.

EU members have seen growing divergences on China-related issues, a situation that also reflects challenges in EU integration. Italy recently broke ranks with Europe by showing its interest in joining the BRI, which had received a mixed reaction within the EU previously.

Following in the steps of Italy, Malta reportedly said it is considering joining the BRI, claiming that "certain prejudices" should not come in the way of good business, CNBC said Wednesday.

While US officials have lobbied some European countries, seeking to woo them away from China's influence, countries like Hungary slammed warnings from Washington on the dangers of dealing with Russia or China, according to media reports.

"The EU is very divided on China and the document reflects that. China is described as a partner, a rival and everything in between," Bruno Macaes, former European Affairs minister in Portugal and author of a new book on the BRI, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

"I see a lot of continuity on balance. It is not a change of strategy. The EU continues to push China to become more open and liberal. Now it wants to push a bit harder," he said.

Upcoming visit

Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit Italy and France later this month, a trip that analysts said will give a boost to the EU-China Investment Agreement.

China is now the EU's second-biggest trading partner behind the US and the EU is China's biggest trading partner. The EU imported 374.8 billion euros ($392.9 billion) of goods from China in 2017 while exported 198.2 billion euros of goods to China, and the EU-China 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation puts an EU-China Investment Agreement as central to the EU's long-term bilateral relations with China.

"This more aggressive rhetoric on EU-China relations shows that the EU has felt pressure in gaining more benefits and market access to the Chinese market, particularly amid the ongoing China-US trade negotiations," Chen Fengying, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times.

Many new cooperation agreements are expected to be signed during Xi's visit to Europe, and China has demonstrated its determination in further opening up to foreign investors from across the world.

Beijing has recently submitted a draft foreign investment law to lawmakers, vowing to promote and protect foreign investment in China by creating a stable, transparent and predictable market environment for fair competition.

"For the EU, there's no need to worry about whether China will grant the US more benefits in trade talks. The foreign investment law treats all foreign investors equally," Chen said.

Pragmatic view

By defining China as a systemic rival, the EU is believed to focus more on competition than cooperation in dealing with China, analysts said.

Some European countries have already shown their eagerness to attract more Chinese investment to help their economic recovery, and they will adopt more pragmatic views on their relations with China, the analysts said.

Unlike the tension in China-US ties, there is no geopolitical confrontation between China and the EU, they said.

"It will be more cooperative competition between the two trading partners. On one hand, they will continue working together in regional and third-party markets; on the other hand, they will maintain healthy competition that will create more benefits for both sides," Cui Hongjian, director of EU Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Wang Yiwei is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China. Bruno Macaes is a Non-Resident Senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.