10.12.2023 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On the current condition of relations between the PRC and the EU on the eve of the summit

relations between the PRC and the EU

Before the EU and China summit (the 24th one in a row) set to be held on Dec. 7-8, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Catherine Colonna’s visit to China on November 23–24 was the final in a series of probing activities. Note that these events began to be held in the fall of last year.

Up until now, these “summits” have often taken place in the summer. The fact that the next one has been continually rescheduled speaks much about how complicated the current state of Sino-European relations is. The phrase “mosaic nature” has been used multiple times in the NEO to characterize their current situation. In other words, they have both advantages and disadvantages.

Regarding this, one is compelled to raise concerns once more regarding the effectiveness of attempts to attribute all of the issues facing the USA in the current phase of the Great World Game. Furthermore, the foreign policy measures implemented by Washington over the past ten years have predominantly been a response to the rise of these issues, irrespective of the political affiliation of the ruling administration. The nature of these “reactions” may be up for discussion, but mainly within the American public itself, which is unlikely to need outside advice in this.

As it relates to the second world power, the Europeans are facing their own challenges. For example, in the second half of the last decade, there was justifiable caution about “Chinese shopping trips” in Germany for the actual acquisition of technologically advanced industries. And, while the infamous “American factor” was evident in Berlin’s concerns at the time, it was of mainly secondary importance.

In a comparable manner, European efforts to “de-risk” especially delicate sectors of trade and economic cooperation with China are motivated, just as they are now. And once more, even if the word itself originated in the USA and turned out to be a tamed form of the far more radical (“original”) decoupling in its semantic content, Europeans’ use of it has nothing to do with “blind copying.” Not to mention the infamous “American occupation” that only exists in the fervent fantasies of propagandist warriors.

Similar to the United States, Europe has a constant, very high negative trade balance with the PRC, despite being one and a half times less. The commentary from the Bloomberg news agency also said that the forthcoming EU and China summit makes this issue evident, which cannot but cause concern in Europe. Note that such worries surfaced far earlier in the USA.

The aforementioned and other economic issues are the consequence of rather objective processes in the global economic body, rather than the “malicious intent of the Chinese Communists.” Beijing has continuously stated that it is willing to talk and work with others to find answers. Notwithstanding the growing prevalence of negative political factors in US-EU ties with the PRC.

However, it should be emphasized that significant political issues in these relationships are also primarily of an objective nature; that is, the peculiarities of the current phase of the Great World Game rather than someone’s “ill intentions” or even “intrigues” are what drive these issues. There has been a rapid disintegration and restructuring of the new global order that was put in place over the first two decades following the conclusion of the Cold War. Again, not out of “malicious intent”, but for entirely objective reasons, which they are starting to realize in Washington, where they have been playing the phrase “Stay (unipolarity – ed.), thou art beautiful!” By the way, this was uttered by a doctor who had sold his soul to the devil. As in that scenario, the current situation is not “beautiful” at all but is loaded with serious danger for everyone, particularly those who attempt to do so now.

The crucial inquiry pertains to the character of the “transition process”: will it be guided by the relatively well-coordinated efforts of all involved, albeit mostly the prominent ones, or will certain actors not budge? This time, will everyone fall victim to the infamous Thucydides’ trap—which is not a law at all—or, once again, will everyone manage to avoid it through joint efforts?

In many areas of the contemporary world order, impulsive, ill-considered unilateral actions have the potential to set off extremely disastrous events. These days, Taiwan and the South China Sea that it borders are scarcely the most dangerous. The PRC’s response to the passages in the Joint Statement, approved at the conclusion of the EU-Canada summit in St. John’s, Canada, that mentioned the situation in the South China Sea and the area surrounding Taiwan is almost certain. Additionally, the text sends Beijing some very encouraging signals. Furthermore, in the event that the wishes are warranted (but read between the lines)to ascertain the Taiwanese people’s perception of their own future.

However, we reiterate that the PRC leadership is open to communication with Washington as well as the most influential Europeans, notwithstanding the uneasy political backdrop. Beijing is not highly complimentary towards the Brussels bureaucracy—and, we might add, quite rightly.

During Chinese Premier Li Qiang’s tour of Europe in June of this year, which included visits to Germany and France, the continent’s two most powerful nations, this readiness was particularly on display.  He also held conversations with high-ranking EU officials.  It was also Li Qiang’s first overseas travel following his elevation to the Chinese government’s top post.

Among the counter-tours, we remember the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to Beijing a year ago and the French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to China six months later.

Sino-European contacts have not stopped at this point. In the summer of this year, two high-ranking officials traveled to Beijing as special envoys of the French President. Wang Yi, the second person in control of China’s foreign policy, welcomed former Prime Minister of France Jean-Pierre Raffarin during his visit to China in October.  The Chinese premier and the current German Chancellor held an online meeting at the beginning of November.

At the same time, the restrictive measures in trade with China adopted by the EU in May this year within the framework of the mentioned de-risking led to Beijing’s refusal of the planned visit of the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to the country in early June.

Recall that Catherine Colonna’s visit, mentioned at the beginning, was the final one in a series of probing activities. Note that the formal title of the French visitor’s official position. The majority of the visitor’s diplomatic career was devoted to various aspects of European affairs. She most certainly acted in Beijing in a dual capacity, that is, the French presidential special envoy and the envoy of the Brussels bureaucracy.

However, there was an element of vagueness over the possibility of another EU and China Summit at the time of writing.

Lastly, it would seem appropriate to discuss Russia’s position within the dynamic global transformation process, a few of the key components of which have been raised here briefly. The focus on Russia’s “special path” is unavoidably disturbing, since it raises the possibility of living in a “political ghetto” that was voluntarily created. Not the leader of a mythical “alliance” that includes the Global South, for example. This last one will use whatever resources it can find to overcome its own heavy issues. Including those that the infamous West, which rebuilds on the fly (give it credit), primarily composed of the United States, Europe, and Japan, has already intended to provide.

The concept of “Russophobia,” whose authors don’t seem to understand the shame of using this stigma against a great nation, which reduces it to the level of a resentful child on the playground, serves as support for the thesis about “Russia’s special path.” The speculations of the second half of the 19th century regarding Holy Russia, which has been at odds with the West for centuries, are the source of both of these myths. They were unrelated to the actual circumstances in the Russian Empire and its environment even back then.

The long-standing practice of attributing nearly all of Russia’s issues to the situation in Ukraine, a localized boil on the European continent, is in the same row. The problems of today’s Ukraine that are becoming critical, not in the sphere of the also “mythical” threat of fascism. They are caused by another aggravation of the national disease called “Mazepinstvo”. It appears that the long-suffering Ukrainian people will have to pay a high price for the next treatment, just like they did 300 years ago.

Like all the other “special” paths—American, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, British, German, French, Zimbabwean, and so on—the “Russian path” is also unique. And they are all different from one another in some way. Again, the main challenge is to harmonize all these “peculiarities” in a way that avoids being overly contradictory. Not waiting for the “best one” to show up, but also by making contact with people who now represent an actor in an official capacity.

The evolution of Sino-European ties amply illustrates that, despite a shared desire to do so, this is an extraordinarily challenging task.


Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

Related articles: