China must decide what kind of geopolitical Europe it wants

Andrei Lungu | 27 December 2019

China is slowly losing Europe. This is happening even though transatlantic relations are at a low point and right when the European Union is finally aiming to become a global geopolitical player.

Ursula von der Leyen, the new president of the European Commission, has made it clear over the past months that she wants to lead a “geopolitical commission” and one of its priorities will be to “define our relations with a more self-assertive China”.

This means that the next few years will be decisive for China. Over the past three years, even in the context of EU-US disagreements and tensions, China’s ties to Europe have frayed, with the EU branding it “an economic competitor ” and “a systemic rival”, while numerous voices on the European continent are calling for a more confrontational attitude against what they perceive as a rising illiberal adversary.

Beijing has been very slow in understanding and responding to these developments, taking few measures to save its relations with Europe. If current trends continue, China will lose Europe, no matter how strong their economic ties remain.

As its relations with the US are unlikely to go back to their pre-2017 “normal”, China’s leaders will now have to decide what kind of geopolitical Europe they want. Do they want Europe to be a friend, a simple business partner or a geopolitical adversary?

This choice might not be China’s to make, but it can do a great deal to influence it. Yet, to do this, it must abandon its current approach and implement a strategy of understanding and engagement, with a long-term focus.

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This article has been published by Andrei Lungu, President of RISAP, in the South China Morning Post. You can read the full article on the SCMP website.

Photo Credits: The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, and the Premier of China, Li Keqiang, at the 2017 EU-China Summit (Flickr/European Council President)

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Andrei Lungu​

Andrei Lungu is president of RISAP. His research interests include China’s foreign policy and its domestic politics, Sino-American relations and the balance of power in the Asia-Pacific.

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