Europe Needs a China Strategy; Brussels Needs to Shape It
Europe’s momentum in developing a clear-eyed approach toward China has stalled. In March 2019, the European Commission issued a white paper naming China a systemic rival and economic competitor. That publication marked a fundamental shift in how far European institutions were willing to go in raising the challenges China poses to Europe’s openness and prosperity. It also reflected shifts that were occurring in capitals across Europe. Just as the European Union was rolling out its white paper on China, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was arguing that Europe should view China as a competitor as much as a partner, and French President Emmanuel Macron warned China that “the period of European naivety is over.”
However, since those March proclamations, neither the EU nor individual European leaders have taken the meaningful steps needed to close existing vulnerabilities in Europe’s relationship with China, stand up for European values of democracy and human rights, or strengthen Europe’s resolve against Chinese economic and political pressure. Certainly, the EU had significant distractions in the second half of 2019, as it managed a leadership transition and negotiated the Brexit arrangement, but EU leaders also had opportunities to press China on these key issues. During Merkel’s visit to China last September, she raised her concerns about Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement but failed to bring up Chinese human rights abuses against Muslims in Xinjiang. Macron was even more reserved on human rights in his visit to China in November. He made no public mention of Chinese human rights abuses in Xinjiang, nor did he call on President Xi Jinping to respect China’s commitment to Hong Kong people’s rights.