EU Encourages West to View China As A Viable Competitor

On October 17, 2022, the European Union’s Foreign Ministers gathered to discuss the current and future vision for a more involved and fully-fledged partnership with China in global initiatives such as climate change and global health. Additionally, the talks involved creating a robust plan to compete with China directly in terms of political regimes and trade. Due to China’s unique form of governance and one-party political system, China typically has not been seen as being on the same level as Western wealthy democratic countries, causing many states to underestimate China’s capabilities and influence. 

EU Foreign Minister Josep Burrell argues against this mindset and believes Western countries should take China much more seriously as an economic rival and political threat. “The message from China now is one of competing, competing on a political level, [and] the desire to have an influence on all sorts of levels,” Borrell said. 

Another reason for Western countries disregarding China as a credible threat is the questionable choices of the Chinese Government. During the ongoing invasion of Ukraine by Russia, China failed to condemn Russian actions, sending a message to the rest of the world that the Chinese Government supported Russia in this egregious abuse of power and violent endeavour. Additionally, in May, the EU urged China to recognize Hong Kong’s autonomy and refrain from implementing the same censorship practices on them as their own citizens. Still, China hasn’t taken any action to rectify that issue.

Chinese President, Xi Jinping, made it clear in an opening speech on Sunday, October 16, that China would not deviate from its current policies or developmental trajectory, announcing that the “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is now on an irreversible historical course.”

Despite these globally upsetting decisions, China is a major global economic power and has experienced significant growth, with an average annual GDP growth rate of 9% since 1978, while also making up 17.9% of the world’s GDP today. China’s GDP is second place in the world, following the United States, which makes up 24.4% of the world’s GDP.  For this reason, Burrell urged the EU to pursue competition with China, rather than being heavily dependent on China which is increasingly tightening its grasp on other states, particularly in the East Asian and African regions. Burrell used the example of how the EU must lower its dependency on Russian gas following its invasion of Ukraine as an example. “Now we are talking about our dependency, vulnerability from Russian gas. We have to avoid creating new ones,” he said.

All of this falls within the context of China’s continuous expansion of its economic presence in Africa. China has been providing debt relief for free or at very low-interest rates and is building numerous infrastructure projects under the name of the Belt and Road Initiative on the African continent. Burrell’s message of focusing on the competition with China would make sense, given that they don’t want any more of the influence that China has had on Africa, to continue happening at the same rate in other parts of the world.