The People’s Republic of China today is very different from ten years ago. Its growing self-confidence as a result of fast economic growth and rapid recovery from the global financial crisis has translated into an ambitious national, regional and global agenda under the leadership of Xi Jinping. Domestically, the Communist Party has reasserted its leadership in all spheres of life. Economic liberalization has been largely halted. State-owned enterprises are dominant in key sectors and in China’s push abroad, while private firms are increasingly subject to direct oversight by the CCP. Society is under constant surveillance and control thanks to modern technology, and the policy vis-à-vis religions and ethnic minorities has become even harsher. In the case of Uyghurs and other non-Han Muslims, the worst human abuses since Mao’s death are now being committed. Regionally, China has stepped up assertive or provocative actions towards its neighbors, using a toolbox that currently includes more sticks than carrots. In global institutions, it has moved into top positions and has expanded its influence, often indirectly enabled by the negative stand of the United States towards multilateralism. China has launched new institutions like the AIIB, and also far-reaching initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative. It is working to revise universal values such as human rights.
Within the EU and its neighborhood, China has built up a significant economic, diplomatic and media presence over time, which initially took place largely unnoticed by Europe. The toolbox of promises and threats is in full play here as well, not only at the state level, but also for companies.