All European roads no longer lead to Rome, but Beijing, with Emmanuel Macron, Theresa May, Mark Rutte and Angela Merkel travelling to the capital of the European Union’s largest trade partner. But the European leaders didn’t go to China just to make a new friend; Europe has a few grievances for Beijing to address.
The rise of China and its actions in foreign and domestic affairs have transformed European capitals’ perspectives towards China. This emerging negative narrative has been strengthened by Xi Jinping’s actions, especially the abandonment of presidential term limits.
This negativity reverberated on the Belt and Road Initiative, with some calling it a tool for promoting illiberalism. A few months ago, 27 out of 28 ambassadors to China from EU member states criticised the belt and road plan.
But 2016 witnessed a boom of Chinese investments in Europe, especially in Germany, one of the most important markets for Chinese investments. Starting with acquiring the German robot-maker Kuka and ending with a 10 per cent stake in Daimler, Chinese companies cast a shadow of fear in Europe, including that Chinese companies will appropriate German know-how, dismantle its factories and move production to China.
Scepticism extended to other Western European countries, with France, Germany and Italy calling for a policy on Chinese investments. To counter China’s buying spree, these countries lobbied in Brussels for stricter regulations and an agency similar to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to review of foreign investments.
In this context, recent visits to China by the most important European leaders illustrate the way China-EU relations might move forward. All are interested in strengthening economic ties to China, but also refused compromises on some positions.
This article has been published by Andreea Brinza, Vice President of RISAP, in the South China Morning Post. You can read the full article on the SCMP website.