Why China sees the EU as a counterweight to America

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

“China sees the European Union as a possible balance to the United States,” argues Dingli Shen, deputy director and professor from the Centre of American Studies in Fudan University, in the autumn edition of Europe’s World.

Considering historical events such as the fall of the Soviet Union, “the last rival superpower to the US”, and Japan’s brief industrial challenge to America’s leadership during the 1980s, Shen claims that “China might itself wish to be a major force in a multipolar world, but has been plagued by its lack of overall strength”.

In light of this reality, “Beijing sees the expanding EU as a likely counter to United States’ unchecked power,” the author argues.

In fact, Shen believes that the concept of an independent European defence, as embodied so far by the current European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP), is “generally seen to suit China’s preferred notion of a multipolar world rather than a unipolar one dominated by the United States”.

On the other hand, the author admits that the ESDP in its current form is likely “coincide with American security interests” and recalls that a “number of EU member states have pledged their defence capabilities to North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)”. 

Shen believes that once a new, independent European security and defence policy has been fully developed, it “will not necessarily equate with that of the United States”. Indeed, the substance and pattern of ESDP operations are in fact likely to win Beijing’s respect, the author says, on account of the fact that the “ESDP attaches high importance to the legitimacy of its missions”. 

Every ESDP mission has so far “respected international law and governmental arrangements among disputing parties” and “most of its military or police missions have been based on UN Security Council resolutions,” Shen notes. 

Moreover, the author believes the ESDP is likely to gain China’s respect because whenever it acts outside Europe, it aims “to enhance governance [and] assist governments’ efforts to improve security matters” rather than promote regime change. 

Finally, as the EDSP is “open to international cooperation,” Shen argues that it sits very well alongside China’s vision of a multipolar world. The ESDP cooperates with the UN and other regional organisations such as the African Union and Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and whenever “the EU reaches out, it tends to play a leading role in these collaborations,” the author observes. 

“Beijing can see the constructive ramification of a strong and independent Europe, and from that vantage point it is not [too] early for China to envisage a multipolar global system as already on the horizon,” Shen concludes. 

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