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These days, the People’s Republic of China and the European Union celebrate the 40th anniversary of their relationship. Given the age of 40, one could assume that the relationship has indeed ‘grown up’ by now.

But has it, really?

Here are three indicators supporting this view and three against it:

  1. China established diplomatic relations in 1975 with the – back then – European Community at a time that is commonly dubbed “Eurosclerosis”, with European integration stalling and when the Community was far from establishing a common foreign policy. It underlines the strategic importance for global politics that China has seen in the European integration project from the very beginning, and even during a time that was clearly dominated by just two powers.


Times have changed, notably the bipolar world has come to an end. But even if we believe theories of a multipolar world, there are still doubts if the now much more mature European Union, which even has a face to show to the world can be considered a pole or even an actor in global politics, with as many as 28 members and being in a state of constant crisis.


  1. The trade relationship between China and the EU is still the largest in the world. For several years now, China is Europe’s No. 2 partner and Europe is China’s No. 1 partner. Goods and services of over 1 bn EUR per day are exchanged between the two economic giants. Initiatives such as the new investment treaty and possibly a free trade agreement are likely to foster EU-China trade further.


If TTIP comes, the US-EU trade relationship may outperform the Sino-European one. The fact that Europe and China could not even find common ground in terms of China’s WTO-status (market economy or not) indicates the level of difficulty to turn negotiations into concrete outcomes. What is more, EU-China relations are still based on an agreement of 1985 as the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement failed.


  1. Even if international relations are increasingly dominated by business, investment and economics, one cannot exclude politics. We’ve come a long way over the last 40 years in terms of approaching each other politically. Since 1998, China and the EU hold annual summits. Politicians at all levels from China and all member states and at EU-level constantly visit each other. Chinese has become a popular language to study and cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, which host some of the finest universities worldwide, have become attractive destinations for European exchange students and vice versa.

Notwithstanding the exponential increase of people-to-people exchange, a recent survey by the EU-Asia Institute at ESSCA School of Management and Oklahoma University has confirmed the negative perceptions of Europeans towards China, notably the Chinese government. Noteworthy is the fact that strong trade relations do not help mitigate the situation: Germans are among the most skeptical Europeans vis-à-vis the Chinese.


So long / 祝好,


Author :
EurActiv Network