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EU-China 2020 The dawn of a more geopolitical EU?

By September 28, 2020November 23rd, 2020News

Written by Jennifer Tollmann, Byford Tsang, Léa Pilsner.
The full version of this article was first published on the E3G website.


Alongside delivering the European Green Deal as Europe’s new growth strategy, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has promised a more “geopolitical” Commission. While the latter may remain rhetoric, a more proactive and interest-driven Europe is starting to emerge.

In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, the new concept of Europe’s “Open Strategic Autonomy” is coming to epitomize this shift.

For the EU-China relationship, this means leaning into a threefold approach to China, first laid out in 2019, as a negotiating partner, economic competitor and systemic rival. The EU did not shy away from asserting a proactive position on China in recent bilateral dialogues:

  • highlighting disagreements – human rights concerns over Hong Kong and Uighur Muslims;
  • pursuing alignment in areas where shared interests exist – trade and post-COVID-19 debt relief to third countries; and
  • reaffirming willingness to engage if cooperation delivers concrete solutions – climate change.

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