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China-Europe relations in the new cold war: challenges, frustrations and missed opportunities

Asia Power Watch founder & editor Nicolas Michelon was invited on September 18, 2020 by Peru’s Universidad Nacional Mayor de San MarcosCentro de Estudios Asiáticos (CEAS) to speak on “China-EU relations in the new cold war: challenges, frustrations and missed opportunities“.

As China Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently wrapped up a less-than-successful European tour and a EU-China virtual summit ended up with a stern reminder of the reality of deteriorating relations, Mr Michelon looked into the reasons behind the renewed tensions between both trade partners. He discussed the sensitive and key issue of reciprocity in trade and investment, with a particular attention to the never-ending negotiation of a Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), the timid reduction of China’s MOFCOM “negative list” as well as EU resentment over recent Chinese attempts at controlling strategic assets.

Mr Michelon then moved on to talk about the rift caused by technological and information nationalism, centered on three high-profile cases: Huawei’s involvement in 5G, the US ban on TikTok and the still-unfolding Zhenhua Data scandal.

He then highlighted the crucial point of Chinese interest-based vs. European value-based negotiation cultures, making it increasingly challenging for both parties to hold constructive talks, as the EU insists on clarification by Beijing regarding the treatment of Uighur populations, the National Security legislation in Hong Kong and the threats of forced reunification with Taiwan.

Mr Michelon went on to address the fallout in Europe left by Beijing’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic, with a short-lived positive impact of China’s “mask diplomacy” and disastrous consequences from Beijing’s attempts at controlling narrative and waging information warfare.

He then concluded by identifying a clear “divide and conquer” strategy on the part of Beijing when dealing with European partners and noted that systematic resistance was building up throughout the continent, with even Germany (the EU’s constant “weakest link” in bilateral relations) showing signs of impatience and announcing a new Indo-Pacific strategy… Mr Michelon noted that EU-China relations are at a crossroads, with rational reasons to hope for better conditions for reciprocity as China has alienated many of its trade partners in record time. But he reminded the audience that one cannot resonnably exclude the possibility of further radical measures by Beijing, resorting to the all-too-common communist mindset of “us-versus-the-world“…

Thank you to Prof. Carlos Aquino for moderating the event and to Mrs Maria Osterloh for the kind invitation and for making this event possible.

A replay of the webinar is available here:

Picture credits: Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos

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