Highlight 46/2022 – Reflections on future China-EU relations based on the report of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party
Zishi Wang, 10 November 2022
The history between the China-European relations, although turbulent at times, has seen a steady improvement. However, recently this trend has stagnated, with key areas of concern including trade and values. These concerns plague the China-EU transcontinental relationship, preventing further cooperation when multilateralism is needed. With the conclusion of the 20th national congress of the Communist Party of China, the report presented agendas including “high quality opening up” and “humanity’s shared values”, among others regarding multilateralism and sustainable development. China’s newest agenda strives to solve these long-standing issues, and promote further cooperation.
The trade imbalance between China and Europe is persistent. The EU wants fairer competition and deregulation. Accordingly, China and EU negotiated a Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, which was agreed in principle in 2020 but has not been signed. The Chinese government is determined to enforce the standards captured in this agreement, which coincide with internal reforms. In the report, China promised “high-standard opening up” which includes inter alia reducing the negative list of foreign investment and “institutional opening up” which seeks to conform various standards, regulations and management to international norms, also promoting “market-oriented, law-based, and internationalized” market order.
With regard to the concern on values, the EU does not consider China as a country conforming to values which advance respect for human dignity, human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law. In the report, China also aims to promote such values as it states: “We sincerely call upon all countries to hold dear humanity’s shared values of peace, development, fairness, justice, democracy, and freedom; to promote mutual understanding… and to respect the diversity of civilizations.” Due to differences in development and traditions, China may have different ways of promoting these values, with the same goal.
Global challenges require global cooperation and China is a vociferous advocate of multilateralism. Quoting the report regarding multilateralism: “We have taken a clear-cut stance against hegemonism and power politics in all their forms, and we have never wavered in our opposition to unilateralism, protectionism, and bullying of any kind.” This corresponds with EU’s policies promoting a rules-based international order.
With regards to sustainable development, the report highlights that “China is committed to sustainable development and to the principles of prioritizing resource conservation and environmental protection.” Furthermore, the report states that China recognizes the profound socio-economic changes necessary for carbon neutrality. Sustainable development has been enshrined in Article 37 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, and recognizes the Chinese efforts to decarbonize the economy.
From the agendas presented in the report, in the long-run, the outlook on China-EU relations could be positive. While the report indicates China’s highest priority, there is a need to overcome the obstacles to progress China-EU relations, including the EU’s conservative tendencies and abrupt changes to the relations with the US. Though the EU sees China as a partner, it is also perceived as a “systemic rival” as China adopts a different system of governance; however this rivalry need not be hostile. Personally, I believe that with further understanding, China and the EU could cooperate in a competitive yet mutually beneficial way to advance the art of governance, and while doing so secure a better future for the world.
Zishi Wang, Highlight 46/2022 – Reflections on future China-EU relations based on the report of the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, 10 November 2022, available at www.meig.ch
The views expressed in the MEIG Highlights are personal to the author and neither reflect the positions of the MEIG Programme nor those of the University of Geneva.