China and the EU agreed at the Summit held in Brussels in June 2015 to explore synergies between China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ Initiative and the European Investment Plan, to set up an investment working group and to establish a Connectivity Platform. Both sides also decided to strengthen cooperation in the development of the digital economy. In addition, new opportunities for cooperation are opening up as China begins implementing its 13th Five Year Plan and chairs the Group of Twenty (G20) leading developed and emerging economies.
What about the way ahead?
First, in different ways, China and the EU are not just changing within – they are also changing the world outside. China’s re-emergence has been the defining global story of the last decade. The deepening and widening of the EU has also changed the world. It is clear that China’s economic transformation and diplomatic coming of age will continue for years to come. And despite current troubles, the EU is also making its mark on the global stage.
Second, the EU-China relationship is the EU’s most developed and dynamic relationship with an Asian country and an emerging power. The partnership is varied, diverse and dynamic, including 70 or so sectoral dialogues, and constant engagement at many levels. The partnership involves all of the EU, including the European External Action Service, the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Committee of the Regions and more.
Third, the EU is well placed to play a pivotal role in China’s transformation given its solid and varied relationship with Beijing. Over the next few years, as the 13th Five Year Plan is implemented, there will be even more focus on innovation and green growth – where the EU can provide technology and expertise. Issues such as the common challenge of ageing populations, inequality and urbanisation will continue to be addressed. There will be more cooperation in the security sector and on 21st Century Global challenges – including non-traditional security issues like climate change, illegal immigration and disaster management.
But as in the past, there will be challenges ahead. The greatest challenge is to make their relationship more robust and resilient and to focus on long-term interests, not short-term friction. Policymakers from both sides need to keep an eye on the bigger picture, not narrow sectoral difficulties as we are facing today on granting China Market Economy Status or global steel oversupply.
The EU-China conversation is intense, multifaceted – and marked by occasional disagreements and bitterness. But China and Europe are bound by mutual curiosity and growing economic connections. In an unpredictable, divided and volatile world, such bonds are important and valuable.
Ahead of the EU-China Summit in July 2016, Friends of Europe will publish articles from our vast network of Chinese and European academics, policymakers, business representatives and media on the future of the EU-China strategic partnership. These will be collected into a publication entitled “EU-China relations: new directions, new priorities”.
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