Europe, the US and China


This report from UK think tank the Centre for European Reform looks at the love-hate triangle of the US, China and Europe.

The COVID-19 crisis has worsened relations between the US and China, but Europe must avoid being caught between the two rival superpowers. It needs to find common ground with like-minded democratic states and take a firmer line with China, without following the US unquestioningly into a contest for global hegemony. That’s the crux of this research paper, ‘Europe, the US and China: A love-hate triangle?’ which examines the relationship between the world’s three economic powerhouses. The rise of China as an increasingly assertive economic and military power under Communist Party chief Xi Jinping has brought the Asian giant into direct conflict with the US on trade, foreign policy, and ideology. The EU’s relations with China have also come under strain over trade and intellectual property disputes, and because of growing disquiet over China’s human rights record. Donald Trump’s hostility to multilateral co-operation in general and the EU in particular has made it harder for the EU to co-ordinate with Washington on its approach to Beijing. China’s efforts to carve out a global role have also created a dilemma for the EU, which is instinctively multilateralist but sees that Beijing’s priorities and values do not coincide with its own. Against this backdrop, ‘Europe, the US and China: A love-hate triangle?’ offers a series of recommendations for how the EU can protect its interests and prosper. Its starting point must be deeper knowledge of the US and China as a basis for better and more realistic policy-making. It is time for Europe to take China more seriously as a security risk, but the EU must also hedge against a less reliable partnership with Washington, even if Joe Biden becomes president. The paper argues that Europe should work more intensively to prevent an escalation of tension between the US and China. At the same time, it must set boundaries on what constitutes tolerable Chinese behaviour, and be ready to push back against Beijing more forcefully if it contravenes international norms. European governments must not undermine EU unity for short-term national gain. After labelling China a systemic rival, Europe must show by example that its model of democratic governance is superior.

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