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Europe sceptical of Beijing's intentions

Europe sceptical of Beijing's intentions

China faces pushback from European nations over the same issues that have strained its ties with the United States. Europe is increasingly growing wary of Beijing ever since the outbreak of Coronavirus pandemic. There has been a new consensus among EU nations' assessment of the challenges China poses to Europe. The EU-China relations lack reciprocity and there are mounting concerns within Europe about China's assertive approach abroad, as well as its breaches of international legal commitments and violations of human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.

There is growing scepticism about the future trajectory of the relationship and manifestation of this attitude towards China comes to fore recently when European Union called for a fairer and more reciprocal economic relationship with the world’s second-largest economy.

In a statement released on October 1, the EU stressed the need to rebalance the economic relationship and achieve reciprocity. It recalls the goal of finalizing, by the end of this year, negotiations for an ambitious EU-China Comprehensive Investment Agreement (CAI) that addresses the current asymmetries in market access, contribute to a level playing field, and establishes meaningful commitments on sustainable development.

It also calls on China to deliver on previous commitments to address market access barriers, to make progress on overcapacity and engage in negotiations on industrial subsidies at the World Trade Organization.

The statement went on to say that European Council encourages China to assume greater responsibility in dealing with global challenges. This includes, in particular, taking more ambitious action on climate in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement and on biodiversity, and supporting multilateral responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, notably as regards treatments and vaccines, the independent review of the international health response, and debt relief as a necessary condition for recovery from the pandemic, particularly in Africa.

The European Council welcomes, as an important step in the right direction, the statement of President Xi Jinping, following the Leadersʼ video conference that China will aim to achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.

EU underlines its serious concerns about the human rights situation in China, including developments in Hong Kong and the treatment of people belonging to minorities, as expressed at the EU-China summit in June and the Leaders’ meeting held on September 14 virtually with President Xi Jingping.

The 27-country bloc is China’s largest trade partner, while the Chinese market is the second-largest destination for EU goods and services after the US. And yet the economic relationship between Brussels and Beijing is not well regulated. While efforts to enhance trade and other economic links continue to play a major role in the relationship especially due to the financial impact of the pandemic countries across Europe are becoming increasingly sceptical of Beijing’s intentions.

They are debating reducing their dependency on China for supplies of critical goods and are ever more concerned about the future of the relationship in a rapidly shifting geopolitical environment marked by growing US-China rivalry.

While member states’ attitudes towards China are changing at different speeds, there is a broad consensus between them that the EU is not adequately equipped to tackle the challenges posed by the country’s state-led authoritarian model and state-capitalist economy.
Member states now agree that the EU needs to restrict Chinese investments in strategic sectors, underlining their growing wariness of overdependence and exposure to the political and economic risks emanating from Beijing.

Beyond these economic qualms, the emerging European consensus on China also stems from a growing range of political concerns. Member states recognize that China is increasingly adept at dominating bilateral relationships with them and ever brasher in its violations of human rights and international commitments in places such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong. They acknowledge that this partly reflects the failure of European efforts to stand up to Beijing politically and that only a coherent EU policy framework and coordinated action could halt or reverse these trends..