Does the EU have any leverage vis-à-vis China?

Conflict-laden issues including the New Silk Road are setting the agenda at the EU-China summit today, Tuesday. Brussels wants China to commit to fair and free trade relations. But commentators point out that Europe doesn't hold much sway over its second most important trade partner anymore.

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Ilta-Sanomat (FI) /

No more clout

In negotiations with China Europe's representatives no longer even bring up the topic of human rights, Ilta-Sanomat laments:

“The richer China has grown, the more cautious the West has become. Reports on how the Uighurs are being treated are shocking. China is constructing a surveillance system reminiscent of a horror film. And as for the Communist Party's autocratic rule in the land of unbridled capitalism, no one even mentions it any more. Europe's options for exerting economic pressure on China have disappeared. Twenty or thirty years ago this could have worked. Back then people believed China would remain a subcontractor economy forever. Such illusions are now a thing of the past.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Don't lose control over the future

NRC Handelsblad is also worried that the EU will fall behind China:

“New European activism shows itself already by the preparations for the summit. China wants a feel-good summit, EU Commission officials have said. ... But Europe wants results: as far as Europe is concerned, China must finally implement the agreements to restore the economic balance of power. ... Europe has every reason to be self-confident, and is entitled to make demands. But to do that it must present a united front. Above all Angela Merkel has made the case for a new European self-confidence. Otherwise, she warned, Europe could lose control over its own future.”

Financial Times (GB) /

China holding up a mirror to Europe

The competition from China should prompt the EU to confront its own weaknesses, the Financial Times advises:

“Rather than insisting on strict reciprocity, the EU should examine why its own businesses and financial institutions are so much worse than their Chinese counterparts - even taking China's state subsidies into account - at generating investment and technological progress where it is badly needed. … The EU is right to look at Chinese involvement in its economies with a sceptical eye. But it needs to separate out those elements which could be a genuine threat to national security and those that reveal the EU's own weaknesses in building the basis for a modern high-growth economy.”