Blog Post

What to Watch: EU’s Juncker, Tusk to Meet China’s Premier Li Keqiang at 21st EU-China Summit

April 08, 2019
Jonas Parello-Plesner Andrew Small
Jamie Fly
Janka Oertel
4 min read
Photo Credit: Alexandros Michailidis / Shutterstock
As European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council President Donald Tusk prepare to meet with China’s Premier Li Keqiang at the 21st EU-China Summit in Brussels on April 9, GMF’s Asia program experts are weighing in with context and analysis on what to expect from the talks-- and what it could mean for the future of Europe-China relations.

With discussions ranging from investment screening to securing the 5G mobile network infrastructure of the future, China has recently taken a more central role in European policy debates. While Brussels has been pushing for a more critical stance and policy re-assessment, member states are still struggling in their balancing act to address long-term national security and economic risks without risking their relations with Beijing. Tomorrow’s summit could provide an indication to where the balance is tilting.

Jamie Fly, Senior Fellow and Director, Asia Program, Future of Geopolitics Program

“The contours of great power competition with China will be shaped well beyond Washington and Beijing.  Europe, given its global economic heft will play a significant role in determining the outcome of that competition.  Recent statements by European leaders have indicated a new tough-mindedness regarding Beijing’s intentions.  Yet much more needs to be done on both sides of the Atlantic to develop a common transatlantic agenda regarding China and the Indo-Pacific.  China will attempt to use every opportunity, including the EU-China Summit, and the 16+1 meeting in Croatia, to pit Europeans against each other and against the United States.  It would be foolish and short-sighted to take the bait.”

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Janka Oertel, Transatlantic Fellow, Berlin Office

“The 5G question has become a litmus test for Europe's willingness to address the changes in its current economic and political relationship with China. Due to its special relationship with Beijing and its high degree of interdependence, Germany has a key role to play. Berlin will update the legal framework in the telecommunications law shortly. It is certain that no formal ban of Chinese technology in 5G networks will be issued, however, a de facto exclusion of Chinese network infrastructure providers is still possible. There may not be a joint statement at the end of the EU-China Summit - something that is not unprecedented - but it was said that the draft version of the statement included 'positive language' on 5G, so this issue in particular is something to watch for as the summit unfolds."

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Jonas Parello-Plesner, Non-Resident Senior Fellow

“For somebody like me, who has tracked the EU’s China policy for many years, talking about Chinas as a systemic rival is a radical change – in rhetoric at least. The litmus test is if the EU manages to translate this into a genuine hard-nosed policy based on reciprocity and clear demands. EU-China Summit tomorrow will be the first test case. Equally important, member states need to be behind this to have any effect.”

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Andrew Small, Senior Transatlantic Fellow

“European expectations for this week’s EU-China summit are low: whether it be trade and investment or human rights, not only is Beijing seemingly unwilling to show flexibility on any of the major European demands, it has gone backwards on some of the commitments it made last year. As a result, it seems likely that this year’s meeting will reinforce the darkening mood about China in Europe. Although the two sides have a substantial economic relationship, there is a growing sense among European leaders that the period of asymmetric openness to China cannot continue and that Europe needs a comprehensive overhaul of its policy instruments in order to compete with China effectively.”

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