After a short but fruitful visit to Berlin Li Keqiang is now reaching the end of his trip to Europe, attending the EU-China summit in Brussels.
In Germany, Li left with a 2.7 billion gift in the form of Deutsche Bank’s commitment to invest in the Belt and Road Initiative. In addition, the “reciprocity” concerns generally raised by the German government regarding China seemed to have been less prominent during this bilateral summit. The reason probably lies in Merkel and Li’s joint attempt to appear as the saviorus of multilateralism against an increasingly isolationist Trump.
In Brussels, China and Europe’s seemingly united vision of global priorities looked even more real after Trump’s announcement that the US would pull out of the Paris Agreement. One could argue that Trump’s announcement was dreadfully timed, considering that the leaders of the other two largest economic blocs in the world happened to be together at the time of the announcement.
Based on the above, one could easily – but hastily – draw a rosy picture of EU-China relations. However, I have doubt that this is really the case, at least for the time being.
First, the European Commission has been negotiating a bilateral investment agreement (BIT) with China for nearly four years, but no indication of a successful conclusion has been given during this summit.
Second, European governments have recently approved the European Commission’s proposal to increase the arsenal of instruments available to fight against dumping. Chinese exports from overcapacity sectors are obviously the ultimate target. Juncker’s meeting with Li does not seem to have softened the harshness of EU’s incoming anti-dumping measures.
All in all, other than showing unitedness against the US’s unilateralism, especially on climate change, the EU-China summit does not seem to have brought any measurable merging of interests between the EU and China. Europe’s disenchantment with Trump is probably too recent for the EU, a famously slow decision-maker , to pivot towards China just now. This will take much more time – and pain in its long-standing transatlantic Alliance with the US.