German Chancellor Olaf Scholz became the first EU and G7 country leader to visit China after the outbreak of COVID-19. As Europe’s largest economy, the German leader’s action toward China will undoubtedly send positive signals for building trust and dispelling doubts, and for smoothly promoting China-EU relations in the post-epidemic era.
At present, national security factors have spilled over to many fields such as foreign trade, energy, and science and innovation, and have become important considerations in the formulation of policies in Europe and the United States. Faced with an overall environment of dilemmas in its internal development and the deterioration of the external security environment, there is a tendency for Europe to want to demonstrate its independence by “showing strength” externally. Since the new European Commission took office, it has focused on developing strategic sovereignty, and the EU and its member states have been responding with adjustments in the trade, S&T, competition, industrial, digital, and climate protection fields, among others. They are committed to boosting their raw material and supply chain resilience, as well as diversifying trade partners, and have launched a series of new strategies, including the “Indo-Pacific Strategy.” In terms of China policy, Europe is increasingly emphasizing an “institutional adversary” positioning in its perception of China. It is currently adjusting its strategy towards China, and some of its policy positions may be hardening. China-EU relations are becoming increasingly complex, with the challenges increasing significantly and uncertainties rising.
In fact, national security is a matter of common concern for China and Europe in these times. The Report of the 20th National Congress of the CCP mentions several times the need to coordinate development and security. On one hand, it puts forward the New Development Concept, and deploying high-quality development under the new development pattern; on the other, it systematically explains the national security system under the guidance of the Overall National Security Concept. Many of these policy orientations, including ensuring food security, improving the resilience and security level of production chains and supply chains, accelerating the achievement of high-level S&T self-reliance and self-improvement, and conducting original and leading S&T research based on national strategic requirements, share a common language with Europe’s thinking on strengthening S&T sovereignty. However, a focus on security essentials should not be equated with the politicization of normal economic and trade activities, including foreign investment, nor should it lead to a rise in protectionist sentiment or an increase in related trade defense instruments.
From China’s perspective, the Report of the 20th Party Congress reaffirmed the steadfast pursuit of an open strategy of mutual benefit and win-win outcomes, with emphasis placed on high-level opening up to the outside. Faced with the changes in the world, the times, and history, China has adjusted relevant aspects of its strategic layout, and has established a new development pattern in which the domestic great circulation plays the leading role and the dual (domestic and international) circulations promote each other. In the new situation, a key focus of international public opinion is on how to adhere to the development direction of economic globalization and the basic state policy of opening up to the outside. In the Report of the 20th Party Congress, China responded to the “decoupling theory,” which some foreign media are clamoring for, with a principled position of high-level opening up to the outside. It hopes to create an international environment conducive to development and a diversified and stable international economic structure by steadily expanding the convergence of interests, building global partnerships based on equality, openness, and cooperation, expanding institutional openness, continuously improving the quality and level of the international circulation, and jointly cultivating new drivers of global development. There is no doubt that high-level opening up to the outside will also bring more policy dividends to future China-EU relations.
At present, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is posing serious challenges to Europe, leading it to face multiple difficulties such as regional war, rising prices, and energy supply tensions. In the face of this changing and chaotic situation, Europe should shift its mindset, get rid of the Cold War mentality, show strategic foresight, and achieve ideological independence. China is committed to building a pluralistic, balanced, and interdependent international structure, advocates upholding the basic norms of international relations, and welcomes the development of Europe into an important stabilizing force in a multipolar world. China and Europe are important trade partners. They have already established a multi-faceted, broad, and multi-level comprehensive strategic partnership, and there is still potential for deepening high-level cooperation. For example, German automotive companies are strengthening their integration with the Chinese innovation system, which can also promote the transformation from “Made in China” to “Created in China.” In green and digital fields especially, although the development plans of China and Europe have their own focus, their strategic agendas are highly compatible. Europe has established green transformation and digital transformation as its priority strategic agenda, hoping that the modernization and transformation of the economy and society in the future will be permeated with and led by green change and digitalization. In the “green” field, it plans to use the green development concept to leverage policy innovation in various domains such as the energy, transportation, and manufacturing industries, and strives to become the first continent in the world to achieve carbon neutrality. In the digital field, it has issued digital strategies, artificial intelligence white papers, cybersecurity strategies, and other digital development strategies, and formulated a series of laws, regulations, standards, and norms. At the same time, China has also made the green and digital directions major components of its economic and social development planning, and the Report of the 20th Party Congress reaffirmed the promotion of “green development” and acceleration of “digital China” construction.
In the current complex and changing international environment, China and Europe can not only contribute their own wisdom and solutions to the modernization process, but should also adhere to the positioning of a comprehensive strategic partnership. On a foundation of basic consensus on many issues such as multilateralism, international cooperation, and multipolarity, they should maintain strategic communication, build trust and dispel doubts, jointly address global and international challenges, continuously explore new growth drivers, raise their level of cooperation, and use a robust China-EU relationship to inject more certainty, security, and development momentum into the world.