Moving towards economic recovery
Most of the Chinese analyses about the future of EU-China relations concentrate on their economic component. This is because the outbreak has had a severe impact on the global economy and caused an economic slowdown. For instance, lockdowns and confinements aiming to contain the spread of virus have caused stagnation of manufacturing and transport sectors. Economic losses are visible. Huang Ping, Executive President of the Chinese Institute of Hong Kong at CASS, argues that as the crisis has accelerated the decline of the European economy. European countries have to remain rational and pragmatic when dealing with China, and cooperation is Europe’s best option.13 China and Europe should further explore ways and means towards working together in a competitive environment. However, in an earlier publication, he mentioned his concern over the EU demand for a reciprocal relationship, doubting the possibility of such a relationship given the difference in development level between the two sides.14 Both Cui Hongjian and Huang Ping think that EU-China relations are facing a crucial test (大考). They both point to increasing interdependence and cooperation between China and the EU accompanied by the inevitability of conflicts and competition.
Some Chinese experts go further, arguing that China is indispensable for the EU’s economic recovery, making it impossible for the EU to shift away from China. Zhang Jian, Director of the Institute of European Studies of CICIR, believes that China and Europe could only overcome their economic difficulties through cooperation, and such cooperation would be a win-win model for the rest of the world to follow.15 Zhou Hong, Director General of the Academic Division of International Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, points out that while there is political demand and public opinion support in Europe for the relocalization of production lines to the Eurozone, large-scale industrial restructuring is time-consuming and uneconomical.16 Given the current context, state intervention in industrial restructuring for the sake of "security" might be possible. But the market will prevail at a later stage because the Chinese market holds an irresistible attraction for European companies. Tang Zheng, Vice President of the China - Europe Association for Technical and Economic Cooperation, suggests that China could increase trade with Europe to facilitate the economic and industrial recovery of European countries.17 For example, China could promote greater trade cooperation with the European auto industry, which has suffered heavy losses in the pandemic.
To conclude, despite several changes in the EU-China relations caused by internal and external factors in the past year, Chinese experts continue to argue that there are many points of agreement between EU and China. This includes support of globalization, multilateralism, and environmental protection. Economic cooperation again has the upper hand. It was always significant for EU-China relations in the past, and it has now become indispensable due to the need for an economic recovery after the pandemic. There also seems to be a consensus among all Chinese experts mentioned in this paper on the presence of an element of competition in EU-China relations. However, competition and cooperation can co-exist, and in the case of EU-China relations, many experts suggest that cooperation would have a heavier weight than competition. In short, competition between EU and China will continue to exist as it is inevitable, but the two will also continue to cooperate as it is necessary.
1"State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi Meets the Press", Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 24 May 2020, https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/zxxx_662805/t1782262.shtml
2"Wang Yi: The China-EU relations are standing at a new historical starting point (王毅：中欧关系已站在新的历史起点上)", Xinhua, 16 December 2019,http://www.xinhuanet.com/world/2019-12/16/c_1125349884.htm
3"China: press statement following the bilateral meeting between HR / VP Josep Borrell and Minister of Foreign Affairs of China Wang Yi", EEAS, 16 December 2019, https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/72140/chine-d %C3 %A9claration- %C3 %A0-la-presse-suite- %C3 %A0-la-r %C3 %A9union-bilat %C3 %A9rale-entre-le-hrvp-josep-borrell-et-le_fr
4"China-Europe relations are generally stable and improving, and we are building a community of shared destiny (中欧关系总体稳中向好 共同构建人类命运共同体)", Xinhua, 19 December 2019, http://www.xinhuanet.com/world/2019-1/19/c_1210402089.htm
5"Foreign Ministry talks about Wang Yi's trip to Europe: Communicating the Three ‘Consistencies’ of China-EU Relations (外交部谈王毅欧洲之行：传递发展中欧关系的三个’始终如一)’", The Paper, 18 December 2019, https://www.thepaper.cn/newsDetail_forward_5272690
6"Wang Yimei: Opportunities and Challenges for China-EU Relations in 2020 (王义桅：2020中欧关系的机遇与挑战)", Huanqiu, 04 December 2019, https://opinion.huanqiu.com/article/9CaKrnKo8uu
7"Interview of Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of Mission to the European Union, by China Youth Daily on China-EU relations (驻欧盟使团团长张明大使就中欧关系接受《中国青年报》专访)", Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the European Union, 06 January 2020, http://www.chinamission.be/chn/stxw/t1731626.htm
8"Scholars Roundtable - Where is the EU heading? Which way is the Sino-European relationship heading? (学者圆桌 | 欧盟向何处去？未来的中欧关系怎么走？)", Shanghai Observer, 07 November 2019, https://www.shobserver.com/news/detail?id=187077
9Shen Xiaoquan, "Eliminating disruptions, China-EU ties move forward in common fight against epidemic (排除干扰，中欧关系在共同抗疫中前行)", Fisnet.com, 06 May 2020, http://comment.cfisnet.com/2020/0506/1319407.html
10Feng Zhongping, "Europe's Strategic Dilemma and China-Europe Relations under the Covid-19 Outbreak (新冠疫情下的欧洲战略困境与中欧关系)", Fisnet.com, 08 May 2020, http://comment.cfisnet.com/2020/0508/1319441.html
11"CASS report predicts eight global trends for 2020, the Covid-19 crisis is the biggest uncertainty (科院报告预测2020年全球形势八大趋势 新冠疫情成最大不确定因素)", China Council for the Promotion of International Trade, 13 May 2020, http://www.ccpit.org/Contents/Channel_4114/2020/0513/1260327/content_1260327.htm
12"Under the epidemic, China and Europe need to strengthen rational and pragmatic cooperation (疫情之下 中欧更需加强理性务实合作)", China Minutes, 15 May 2020, http://www.oushinet.com/wap/china/chinanews/20200515/350153.html
14Huang Ping, "An uncertain Europe? Certain China-EU relations? (不确定的欧洲？确定的中欧关系？)", Aisixiang, 03 September 2019, http://www.aisixiang.com/data/118022-2.html
15Zhang Jian, "Unprecedented urgency of Sino-European cooperation (中欧合作的紧迫性前所未有)", China Daily, 12 May 2020, https://cn.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202005/12/WS5eba60efa310eec9c72b865d.html
16Zhou Hong, "Europe and EU-China relations in the context of the epidemic (疫情下的欧洲与中欧关系)", Aisixiang, 21 April 2020, http://www.aisixiang.com/data/120968.html
17"Experts: the epidemic does not change the resilience of China-EU economic and trade relations (专家：疫情不改中欧经贸关系韧性)", China News, 11 April 2020, http://www.chinanews.com/cj/2020/04-11/9153819.shtml