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China–EU Connectivity in an Era of Geopolitical Competition

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Publisher: SIPRI
March, 2021

The long-standing relationship between China and the European Union (EU) is being subsumed into a broader geopolitical competition between major power centres. Alongside cooperation, elements of competition and rivalry have been sharpened by a re-evaluation of the bilateral relationship by EU actors. Areas of cooperation have included Chinese involvement in the EU’s internal connectivity projects—specifically in transport and digital networks. This report examines this cooperation and assesses its prospects. 

Enhancing connectivity within and around the EU to facilitate trade and commercial relations was relatively uncontroversial even if initiatives were never fully aligned. But the space for common projects has been narrowed by political divergence and new sensitivities in the EU regarding the security implications of Chinese investments. China understands that the EU’s scrutiny of its investments and restrictions on its involvement in connectivity projects are affected by EU–US relations. Despite these tensions, the report shows that constructive ways forward in this globally significant relationship are still possible, both within and beyond the connectivity domains.

Contents

1. Introduction

2. The evolving approach to connectivity

3. The evolving China–European Union relationship

4. Transportation connectivity

5. Digital connectivity

6. Conclusions

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)/EDITORS

Dr Jingdong Yuan is an Associate Senior Fellow at SIPRI.
Jinyung Kim was an intern with SIPRI’s China and Asia Security Programme.
Jiayi Zhou is a Researcher in the Climate Change and Risk Programme.
Fei Su is a Researcher with SIPRI’s China and Asia Security Programme.
Dr Ian Anthony is the Director of the European Security Programme.