A substantial and concrete constructive agenda appears to remain a question mark. The most likely areas for progress in EU-China cooperation in 2024 are climate change policies and business opportunities for companies. Others lag behind, notably with around 15 percent of respondents seeing no likely cooperation progress and very limited possibilities to work with China on global governance and the reform of the international order. The results for 2023 and 2024 look similar. Climate change policy and business opportunities are areas where respondents see the greatest possibility for EU-China cooperation. But compared to 2023, the possibility for China and the EU to cooperate in other domains has decreased significantly.
The outlook for member states’ relationships with China differs between EU countries, but the overall trend of relations is seen maintaining the status quo or deteriorating rather than improving.
France stands out as the only state where close to 40 percent of respondents expect relations to improve somewhat or significantly. But the outlook for Italy-China relations is more negative, with over 45 percent of respondents believing relations will deteriorate – likely in the context of Rome’s withdrawal from China’s Belt and Road Initiative earlier this year. The results for Germany bear strong similarity to the expectations for changes to EU-China relations at large.
The EU’s China policy in 2024: Adjusting and diversifying
The China policies of EU member states are expected to become somewhat more assertive (42 percent) or remain the same (40 percent), in line with the expectation of maintaining the status quo or a gradual deterioration in relations. The respondents also gave the EU an overall 4 out of 10 score for implementing its de-risking agenda so far.
Respondents have a clear message on the EU’s policy within wider geopolitical competition: over half favor diversifying EU partnerships globally and close to 20 percent favor leveraging the EU’s position between the US and China. Only 16 percent want to align more with the US and less than 10 percent favor rebuilding trust with China.
The respondents seem divided on the future of transatlantic cooperation on China, which may be partially due to uncertainties surrounding US elections. Over 40 percent expect no clear change, while almost equal numbers of around 22 percent expect either some decrease or some increase.
The shifting realities make close to 45 percent of respondents believe that a new, major EU-level policy document on China policy is likely or very likely in the next 3 years, with 24 percent seeing it as unlikely or very unlikely.
As Beijing is expected to fortify itself against intensifying geopolitical and geoeconomic competition, it may be prudent for the EU to bolster the consensus on de-risking and diversification policies.
2024 seems to be shaping up as a year of major uncertainties, and Europe cannot afford to take a “wait and see” approach.
The results of the MERICS China Forecast 2024 will be presented at a conference on January 17. To get all the results of the survey, download the PDF: