EU-China relations: Taking stock after the 2020 EU-China Summit

Briefing 30-06-2020

The 22nd EU-China Summit, originally scheduled for March 2020, was postponed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. While other summits were simply cancelled or postponed indefinitely, the EU and China decided to hold the summit by video-link, on 22 June 2020. This decision testifies to the importance both sides attach to taking their complex relationship forward in difficult times. The 2020 summit offered the opportunity to take stock of progress made on past commitments and to re-calibrate EU-China relations, against the backdrop of the wide-ranging fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, growing United States-China strategic rivalry, rapid geopolitical power shifts and the erosion of multilateralism. Looking at EU-China relations through the lens of the 2019 EU-China strategic outlook, China is seen as being at once a partner for cooperation and negotiation, an economic competitor and a systemic rival. China has been a cooperation and negotiating partner for the EU in several fields where interests have converged. Nonetheless, the different norms and values underlying the EU and Chinese political and economic systems have made cooperation challenging. Shared objectives do not necessarily lead to the same approaches to pursuing them. Economic competition has become fiercer in China, in the EU and in third markets. As the Chinese leadership shows growing assertiveness in disseminating alternative models of governance – at international, regional and bilateral levels, China is also acting as a systemic rival, on an increasing number of issues. The coronavirus pandemic has amplified pre-existing political and economic challenges in EU-China relations. It has exposed the EU's over-reliance on China for the supply of strategic goods and also China's confrontational 'Wolf Warrior diplomacy', which has involved the use of a wide range of tools, including disinformation campaigns, political influence and economic coercion, in an attempt to alter narratives critical of China's management of the crisis. It has also clearly demonstrated the need for a 'more robust' EU policy on China.