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No good reason for Europe to follow the US’ China containment strategy

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Others ponder the ineffectiveness of sanctions and the impossibility of defeating Russia. More people are reflecting on a crisis which resulted in higher energy prices, serious inflation and an increased burden on livelihoods.
With economic growth in the euro zone not expected to exceed 1.5 per cent next year, there is an urgency for leaders in Europe to focus on recovery and people’s well-being. Europe needs an economic rebound more than ever and the return of Chinese tourists to cities like Paris, Berlin and Rome is fuelling excitement.
So far this month, I have attended 12 events in France, Germany and Belgium. I was relieved not to hear any Europeans talk about decoupling from China; “de-risking” also rarely came up.
Instead, there was frequent mention in France and Germany of China’s alleged “overcapacity”. China does not like this word: it neither matches the facts nor is conducive to cooperation. But in my opinion, “overcapacity” is at least preferable to decoupling or “de-risking”; it exposes Europeans’ anxieties and their desire to compromise.
The swift growth of China’s electric vehicle (EV) and solar panel production and sales, coupled with the establishment of the world’s largest green finance system, has subjected Europeans’ professed dedication to low-carbon development to a rigorous stress test.
Europe must acknowledge, however grudgingly, China’s leadership in climate change mitigation. China’s capacity for renewable energy exceeds 40 per cent of the global total. China’s EV sales make up 60 per cent of the world’s total and its production of solar panels exceeds 80 per cent of the global output.

Despite the ideological and geopolitical impact of this on Sino-European trade and investment, my conversations with European friends reveal not limitless criticism of China but limitless demands.

Europe yearns for an array of outcomes including increased Chinese tourism, Chinese mediation in the Ukraine crisis, collaboration on low-carbon development and climate change, accelerated implementation of the China-EU investment agreement and cooperation on EVs and solar power.

China has been among the European Union’s largest trading partners for years, and has been Germany’s most important for eight consecutive years. Last year, France’s direct investment in China increased by 84 per cent.

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How do France’s ambitions as a global leader figure in China-US relations?

How do France’s ambitions as a global leader figure in China-US relations?

More than 10 per cent of Germany’s foreign investment went to China last year, the highest proportion since 2014. Europe’s leading economy is clearly voting for China. From 2035, Europe will ban the sale of new petrol vehicles, fuelling demand for EVs, which the EV industry based in China can be expected to help meet.

While some European politicians publicly brandish their fists at China, in private they are aware of Europe’s dependence on economic cooperation with China. Europeans are increasingly realising that after losing Russia, they cannot afford to lose China.

Across Europe, populist tub-thumping has fuelled a political shift to the right. Right-wingers are gaining prominence ahead of the European Parliament elections next month, while figures and political parties traditionally associated with the right are growing as a force in the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy and elsewhere. Support for right-wing populist parties is on the rise in France, Germany, Finland, Portugal and Denmark.

Many ordinary Chinese may not understand the implications of European politics or even have a desire to do so. But the willingness of European right-wingers to focus on domestic development and economic growth is seen as commendable.

For many ordinary Europeans, the prospect of Donald Trump’s comeback as US president is alarming. But as a result, they recognise that they must continue down the road of strategic autonomy. This also reflects the Biden administration’s failure to court Europe and so contain China.

Many Chinese have started to realise that Europe and the United States are different international actors. While there may be structural and strategic competition between China and the US, there is no substantial strategic contradiction between China and Europe.

Both China and Europe are long-standing civilisations, prefer green development, strive for regional peace and pursue a fair, equitable and rational international order. There is simply no logical basis for Europe to seek comprehensive and strategic competition with China.

Five days before President Xi’s visit to France, I jogged past the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, Louvre museum and Notre Dame cathedral. In this city of light, there is no shadow of the anti-Chinese feeling that emerged from the brief hysteria of the Covid-19 pandemic. Warm greetings from old book vendors along the left bank of the Seine added to the beauty of Paris in the bright sunshine.

I believe that increased exchanges will lead Europeans, including the French, to break free from US-centric thinking and to return to pragmatism. That’s why I feel optimistic about the future of China-Europe relations.

Wang Wen is professor and the executive dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China

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