During the pandemic, Europe heavily depended on China’s mass production of masks and personal protective equipment (PPE). At the same time, the crisis also created public resentment at China’s initial mishandling of the crisis.
In fact, Covid-19 has had a surprising effect on the Chinese economy. The IMF has predicted a 7.1% decrease of GDP for the EU, and a 1.2% growth for China. But external demand appears to be a key component for China’s growth, as indicates a record-breaking $62 billion trade surplus in May.
Overall, there is a huge spike in medical exports related to the pandemic – a short term outcome of China’s "mask diplomacy" which seized the trade opportunity provided by the world’s dependence on the Chinese supply. According to Chinese statistics, from March to May, China exported 70.6 billion masks. The selling of masks has greatly contributed to China’s export value in euros. In the category of textile yarn and fabric products, there was a 93.53% YoY increase in May.
In this context, the issue of voluntary de-globalization and reshoring of European companies has come to the forefront. The scarcity of medical supplies during the Covid-19 pandemic was of course a shock that echoed in public opinion. The arguments for decoupling should be judged as much on economic grounds as on security grounds These don’t always coincide. As China increases its own self-sufficiency, it also facilitates its own economic resilience in the eventual case of a protracted conflict. At a moment when China initiates at the same time violent skirmishes with India in the Himalayas and aggressive maneuvers in the South China Sea and close to Taiwan, the risks from a military conflict cannot be completely overlooked by Europeans.