A growing consensus among European governments holds that China should take some responsibility for the coronavirus pandemic and that states should take a firmer line. Some governments struggling to battle Covid-19 have been particularly vociferous about the need for a more resolute approach. UK lawmakers from the ruling Conservatives have set up the China Research Group to help shape a tougher policy, while regional politicians from Italy’s far-right Lega, the main force in the regional government of hard-hit Lombardy, are planning to ask Beijing for compensation.
But by no means all European governments are interested in demonstrative rhetoric that is meant for domestic as much as foreign audiences – a play also favored by US President Donald Trump as he pedals an unsubstantiated theory about a laboratory leak. But lawmakers in Germany and Sweden have called on the European Union to investigate the origins of the pandemic, and EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said she would welcome China’s co-operation in doing so.
So different parts of Europe could follow different paradigms – but all could have implications for EU-China relations. Naivety has been giving way to a more clear-eyed approach, although Europe will still treat China as a partner for tackling global issues – like vaccine development – and economic cooperation. Despite becoming more clear-eyed about China, the EU still has vulnerabilities, as shown by EU High Representative Josep Borrell, who had to defend the EU’s European External Action Service following allegations it softened a report on disinformation after pressure from Beijing.
Merics analysis: “While the Covid-19 crisis is prompting many in Europe to voice growing skepticism towards the Chinese government, we shouldn’t overlook other important players who continue to promote very positive views about Beijing during this pandemic – a counterweight that needs to be factored in when assessing the impact of the pandemic on Europe-China relations,” says Lucrezia Poggetti. “In Italy and Serbia, for example, ruling Eurosceptic, populist leaders at national level have served their own political agendas by amplifying positive stories about Beijing’s handling of Covid-19 and its generosity – and they have stayed away from criticism and calls for transparency.”
More on the topic: MERICS recently contributed to a study of the European Think-tank Network on China, on Covid-19 and EU-China relations. More here.
Long reads: Rasmussen Global: China-EU - Living up to the ten actions?
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