For forty years, the Europeans have with China done dazzling business. But now you do not understand each other anymore. For the EU-China summit, it was difficult to agree on a common final communiqué. This does not come as a surprise, as it has been crunching in the relationship between China and Europe for quite some time. There are good reasons for this, because both have changed over the years.
China has become a self-confident world power pursuing an increasingly aggressive foreign policy. The autocratic and authoritarian ruling Communist Party has established a state-capitalist economic system at home. At the head of this state is a lifetime ruling president: Xi Jinping.
That often so sleepy and lame-looking Europe has now woken up. It has noted that the dictatorship in China poses a political threat to the Western liberal system. The EU Commission, the European Parliament and a number of business associations such as the BDI have each published their own critical statements on cooperation with China. Some things are still uncoordinated, but one statement has all these publications in common: something has to change.
It's about peaceful coexistence
For example, there must be a level playing field. China must move and open its market to Western companies. And it must not be that China's party cadre politically split the EU – as they have already tried. The Union has recently come up with some tools to better defend itself against unfair competition. The Investments Screening Act is one of those tools: If you want to invest in Europe, you have to meet certain criteria. Europe's doors are no longer open to subsidized companies from China.
The public perception of China has also changed. This can be seen by way of example in the debate about the 5G expansion. The doubts are big, whether one can entrust the development of the 5G nets of the Chinese company Huawei really, without endangering the own security.
So there are too many questions left. That is why joint communiqués are becoming increasingly difficult. That's not bad news. On the contrary. Europe is not taking everything anymore. It represents demands. If they are not fulfilled, the Europeans are leaving the table without signing a common document. As bad as it may seem to direct business: A self-confident, some Union is better in the long term for Europe's economy – and better for the liberal society.
After all, China's government has for the communiqué of this year Summit clearly made significant concessions: It wants to implement the required market opening and guarantee fair competition, it says in the final declaration. If this really happens, that would be a considerable step forward, because Europe and China have grown together economically in the last forty years. The penetration has become so strong that, in view of the numerous conflicts, it is now a key issue: how can one organize and permanently preserve the peaceful coexistence between a self-confident party dictatorship and liberal democracies? The answer is still pending.