China’s global ambitions and expanding influence are sparking discussions on new forms of strategic competition, taking center stage in the economic and security priorities of the transatlantic relationship. The United States emphasized its strategic rivalry with China in its 2022 National Security Strategy, cautioning that China has the intention and capability to reshape the international order in its favor. The United States stated its commitment to managing the competition responsibly and this focus began during President Barack Obama’s term, with the recognition of the region’s increasing economic importance through his “pivot to Asia policy.”
The European Union has also experienced a shift in its perspective on China, moving from considering China a “strategic partner” to a “negotiating partner” and an “economic competitor.” This shift resulted from Beijing’s efforts to expand its economic and geopolitical influence in Europe. With similar concerns emerging on both sides of the Atlantic, there are six main trends that will determine if there will be convergence in transatlantic China policy in the future.
1. China’s Assertive Diplomacy: China’s increased assertiveness in international relations, notably through initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative, has become a key element of Beijing’s foreign policy and its pursuit of great power status.
2. The “China Model” Dark Side: Growing skepticism in Europe about China’s economic model, particularly amidst concerns about human rights abuses and the uneven economic impact on the EU economy.
3. Overreliance on China: The COVID-19 pandemic illustrated the risks of overdependence on China for supply chains, prompting the EU to focus on economic security and diversifying its supply chains.
4. China-Russia Relationship: The role of China as a strategic partner to Russia and its positioning on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised distrust of Beijing in European circles.
5. U.S. Consensus on China: A bipartisan consensus in the U.S. on the challenges posed by China across multiple domains has provided a foundation for sustainable policies in managing the relationship with China.
6. Overcoming EU-U.S. Differences: The importance of finding areas of convergence and mitigation of differences between the EU and the U.S. in developing a transatlantic approach to China.
As these trends continue to unfold, collaboration between the EU and the U.S. on a joint transatlantic strategy on China is crucial. However, challenges such as internal EU divisions and differing approaches to China must be addressed for successful cooperation.