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Covid-19 and Europe-China Relations

A special report by the European Think-tank Network on China (ETNC)

This new special report of the European Think-tank Network on China (ETNC) seeks to identify and underline key developments in bilateral relations between China and a wide range of European countries, and to highlight debates that these relations inspire across Europe within the context of the evolving health crisis. It is a collection of independent analyses from 19 countries meant to compare notes on country-level experiences and build on the annual reports of the European Think-tank Network on China (ETNC). The report was edited by John Seaman of the French Institute of International Relations (ifri), with support by MERICS expert Lucrezia Poggetti, among others.

As Europe struggles with an existential crisis brought on by Covid-19, the complexities of its relations with China are on full display. While the crisis itself is unprecedented in many ways, it is also the first time that China has figured so prominently on an issue of such immediately critical importance to European citizens, governments, and the European project more broadly. As such, China has become a conspicuous part of public and policy debates around Covid-19 across much of the continent. The way that relations with China evolve over the course of the current crisis, and the debate around these relations, will more than likely have a lasting effect on the Europe-China relationship, long after the crisis has subsided. To begin to understand the dynamics at play, the chapters in the report provide country-specific analysis on these shifting relations within the context of Covid-19. They also seek to provide some indication of the broader impact on bilateral relations and their trajectories.

MERICS expert Barbara Pongratz contributed the chapter on Germany-China relations. In her view, the Covid-19 shock will most immediately impact Germany through the country’s close business ties to China. She anticipates lasting effects on the production capacity and market outlook of German manufacturers, but the main shock is expected to come through a decline in trade. Pongratz argues that the Covid-19 crisis  will  be  a  catalyst  for  four  trends  in  Sino-German relations, namely the debate on German dependence on China, the screening of Chinese investments, Beijing’s role as a partner, competitor and systemic rival, and, lastly, the geopolitical reality of China’s growing influence across Europe.

The European Think-tank Network on China (ETNC) is a gathering of China experts from a selection of European policy research institutes. It is devoted to the policy-oriented study of Chinese foreign policy and relations between China and European countries as well as China and the EU.