There is broad overlap in EU and Chinese interest to support the provision of GPGs in general. This stands in unfortunate contrast to policies of the current US administration which, under President Trump, is retreating from decades of leadership in this arena. The EU will want China to move in directions that progressive forces in its system, such as doctors, scientists, and environmentalists, have said it should move towards. This will often mean holding China to such commitments through a mixture of incentives and disincentives.
On climate, the EU will have to step up its own game and engage China more forcefully to shape its behavior. As the United States remains a key factor, pushing China to become greener will require deeper EU-US cooperation on climate in whatever way possible. Where China and the EU have existing partnerships and cooperation (e.g. the Paris agreement and EU-China strategic cooperation), the EU must double down and hold China to its own words. The EU must be better at “doing its homework” on China's domestic policies so that it can hold China accountable, for instance on its lofty “ecological civilization” ambitions. China’s 14th Five-year plan, setting out its national goals for 2021-2025, is probably the world’s most consequential policy framework affecting global efforts to tackle climate change.
EU engagement with China on trade, science and technology cooperation, investment and finance should also be made contingent on climate change discussions and policy. This will be challenging on both sides, and if the EU wants to build leverage on this matter, it must also enact stricter and more ambitious policies at home.
Only by leading by example can Europe sell its green ambitions abroad, including to China. The coming months offer a small window of opportunity for a more ambitious Europe-China climate partnership. To get there, NDC discussions should be prioritized, especially with regard to the long-term strategy for 2050 net zero. While the EU has committed to zero carbon by 2050, China has not stated any concrete long-term commitments. In order to achieve the Paris agreement’s targets, however, China must accelerate investment in zero-carbon electrification, also with the help of European technologies.
The EU should also make its support for both the AIIB and BRI directly conditional on binding commitments to the climate (and financial) sustainability of financed projects, with the goal of phasing out fossil and coal investments. The EU should enlist global partners for bolder standards regarding international energy projects and green finance. The connectivity strategy and its commitments to “sustainable” connectivity remains the single best framework for pushing China toward higher standards and supporting EU firms that abide by these, too.
On global health, the EU will likewise find itself in a position of supporting and leveraging, but also moving toward engaging and shaping China’s behavior. Yet on China’s “mask diplomacy” or its heavy-handed efforts to gain support for China’s Covid-19 response model, including through the WHO, the EU should adopt a more decisive resist and limit response.
With the United States’ declining influence in the WHO, it is EU member states that, together, should fill the void. They must act as a counterweight to Beijing when it attempts to re-shape the rules, norms and values that underlie global health governance institutions. The EU and its allies must ensure that the WHO remains an independent and objective organization — capable of asserting its authority and refusing political interference during international health crises. EU member states should therefore use their financial and diplomatic weight to push through much needed reforms within the UN agency. In particular, the EU should promote reform of the WHO’s funding system, emergency management mechanisms, and independent post-epidemic investigations. The EU should also aim to help Taiwan obtain observer status at the World Health Assembly.
China’s Health Silk Road presents the EU with multiple new policy challenges. On the one hand, the EU should unite with like-minded countries to push back against Beijing’s corona propaganda and disinformation campaigns. On the other hand, the EU should continue to actively engage and cooperate with China on targeted global health projects and research. When China makes widely publicized financial pledges towards global health, the EU should ensure that Beijing delivers on these promises and should call it out when it does not. In general, the EU should demand much more transparency when it comes to China’s bilateral health programs and encourage Beijing to funnel a greater share of its development assistance for health through multilateral organizations.