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The EU’s China Conundrum

The European Union is increasingly caught between the United States and China. Until it finds a common strategic purpose, the bloc will struggle to advance its interests and is increasingly likely to fall victim to great-power plays.

LONDON – Europeans can’t agree on how to handle a rising China. While European Union leaders were gathering in Brussels recently to discuss a more assertive common approach, Chinese President Xi Jinping was visiting Rome. Xi was there to mark Italy’s independent endorsement of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), his $1 trillion pan-Eurasian infrastructure investment plan that aims to bolster China’s economic and political influence. So much for a unified EU stance.

How, then, should the EU engage with China? As the United States and China stumble toward a new Cold War, each wants the Europeans in their camp. US President Donald Trump’s administration barks at Europeans to follow its aggressive lead in confronting China over trade, technology, and security. Meanwhile, China woos the EU by pointing to their shared interest in defending the multilateral trading system, the Paris Agreement on climate change, and the Iran nuclear deal against Trump’s attacks.

Ideally, the EU ought to chart its own course. But as long as it remains weak and divided, it will struggle to do so.