Rationale for a UACES Collaborative Research Network: Why EU-China relations matter

China: both a challenge and an opportunity

China’s very rapid economic growth over the past three decades has immense repercussions on the world, not only in economic terms (consumption of the world’s resources, trade balances, monetary politics), but also in terms of geopolitical configuration change (“power-shift”, multipolarity, influence-wielding) and the environment (pollution, climate change, sustainable development). Global indicators, from financial indexes to commodity markets, nowadays are closely linked to decisions and developments of Chinese domestic policies. As a result, China’s new status has significant consequences for peace, stability and prosperity on a regional and global scale. There is no doubt that the competitiveness of the European Union’s economy and the realisation of its ambitions as a global political actor will be closely linked to its understanding of this new world power and the type of relationship – in both partnership and competition – that it establishes and develops with it.

China is both a challenge and an opportunity for the EU. Its economic development coupled with its immense population of over 1.3 billion and manufacturing capacity inevitably poses very serious challenges to the EU. At the same time, China’s demand for new technology, its increasing purchasing power, emerging domestic market and growing middle class_ also create enormous opportunities for the EU’s export business, tourism and education. The EU is now China’s biggest trading partner, as China currently ranks as the EU’s 2nd overall trading partner behind the USA and its biggest supplier. It is therefore not surprising that the European Union recognises China as one of its most important strategic partners on the world stage, and their bilateral relations are rapidly becoming one of the key elements of the EU’s external affairs and its efforts to bolster a multilateral global system.

EU-China Dialogue

EU-China dialogue EU-China relations have been expanding rapidly, both in depth and width, culminating in the development of a “Strategic Partnership”. Today the EU and China have some 50 specific dialogues going on – ranging from satellite navigation services to product safety – as well as five sectorial agreements of strategic interest which are in operation. On the diplomatic surface, the development of this relationship is not linear: the so-called ‘honeymoon period’ at the beginning of new millennium was followed by more turbulent times following the cancellation of the EU-China yearly summit in November 2008. Notwithstanding these ups and downs, interdependence and interaction have been increasing steadily and the partnership is gradually maturing. The establishment of high-quality research networks and continuous, well-informed policy analysis on a variety of topical issues of relevance are considered essential for future EU-China relations.

State-of-the-art in EU-China Research

Over the last years the changing dynamics of relations between the EU and China have rapidly become an area for intellectual interest and academic work not only in the fields of political studies, economics and law, but also very clearly – and increasingly – in European Studies. Important scholarly research has been conducted on the three major domains of EU-China relations:

  • Political and Human Rights Dialogues
  • Economic and Trade Relations
  • EU-China Co-operation in Multilateral Affairs.

There is also a growing exchange between the scholarly communities in Europe and China on topics of mutual interests in the forms of conferences, joint research projects and staff/students mobility. In the wake of the worldwide economic and financial crisis and the re-balancing of the global power system, as the EU is increasing its global aspirations, it is essential to address the persisting misunder­standings and dynamics of conflict that are entrenched in EU-China relations.

Relevance for Practitioners and Policy Making

From its inception the CRN has the objective to mix academics with policy makers. The CRN provides a valuable occasion for EU and national officials, policy makers and representatives from private and civil society organisations to engage in in-depth discussion on political, economic and social developments and other important shaping factors in the EU-China bilateral relations. The CRN brings together the research and policy-making communities from across the EU, China and other parts of the world to create an intellectual milieu for informed input and exchange on EU-China relations. It updates and improves the quality of the information available to practitioners working on China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan and bilateral relations with the EU. As shown in the membership list, a significant number of the CRN members are working in the national and European governments and private organisations, who co-organise networking events to build up links between academic research and policy making.