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Global Times

Cooperation to overbalance competition for China-EU relations after pandemic

Global Times

By Yan Yunming Source:Global Times Published: 2020/5/13 20:53:40

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, relations between China and some European countries have experienced some turbulence over the past months, especially after the US escalated tensions with China.

Despite frictions, experts noted to the Global Times that seeking cooperation over competition will be the norm for China-Europe relations in the post-pandemic era.

On April 25, several UK Conservative MPs launched a "China Research Group" to promote "factual debate" in dealing with the "rapidly changing nature of the relationship" between China and the UK. The China Research Group would attempt to look "beyond" the coronavirus pandemic to "examine China's long-term economic and diplomatic aims," according to BBC.

Kevin Hollinrake, one of the MPs supporting the group, told the Global Times that although the group was set up at a time when the virus was rampant in the UK, "the pandemic itself necessarily is not the underlying issue," Hollinrake noted, saying the pandemic is only a "catalyst for a conversation that is already happening in other areas."

According to Hollinrake, the group will make some inquiries on particular policy areas, such as the way the Chinese political system works.

While the group may shadow the bilateral relations, Chris Wood, the British Consul General in Shanghai, told the Global Times, "We will see continued discussion and collaboration. There is no global challenge that can be solved without China's participation. We recognize that we very much want to work with China on these big global issues, and that will continue in future."

Europe's anxieties

Some analysts pointed out Europe's anxieties are to a large extent provoked by the US.

In the early stages of the pandemic, despite certain old disputes, cooperation was the mainstream in China-Europe interactions, Sun Keqin, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times, but things have changed since the US became the new epicenter.

As early as February 1, the European Union had dispatched tons of medical supplies to assist China. In March when the continent was hit hard, China immediately provided more than 2 million protective masks and sent medical groups. Positive rhetoric in Europe regarding China was common.

However, with the situation getting worse domestically, the US government has repeatedly played the buck-passing game to scapegoat China, and unsatisfied with playing the tricks alone, it has also pushed its European allies to join the public opinion war, Sun said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hyped up a conspiracy theory on April 15, saying that, "What we do know is that this virus originated in Wuhan, China. We know there is the Wuhan Institute of Virology, just a handful of miles away from where the wet market was. There is still lots to learn."

A day later, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab soon questioned China on the origin of the virus and said the international community would desire answers from China about its handling of the outbreak.

French President Emmanuel Macron also attacked China's response to the epidemic on the same day, saying "there was no comparison between open societies and those where truth was suppressed," according to BBC.

Sun told the Global Times, to reduce the negative influence from the US on European countries, China needs to make its utmost efforts to let its voice be heard in international public opinion and seek cooperation. What the US is advocating is nothing but rumor and conspiracy, and China must smash these lies with sound and reasonable evidence and awaken the European countries, Sun said.

A way forward

The global pandemic has undoubtedly added complexity and uncertainty to China-Europe relations, both Chinese and European experts pointed out.

Europe and China may demand cooperation more than ever in various fields, Sun said. The global crisis has addressed the significance of international collaboration in terms of non-traditional security issues, such as public health. And as the world's major powers, Europe and China tend to conduct more cooperation in these domains. The coronavirus has brought the world into unprecedented economic recession affecting the Chinese and European economies. To boost economic recovery, the two economies will certainly need each other.

However, European countries might be increasing hawkish against China out of their concerns about the latter's rise in the post-coronavirus world, Sun noted.

Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, China as an emerging power had already been a focus in Europe, especially in terms of technology and economy, some analysts said.

The pandemic has aggravated some European countries' anxieties about the rise of China, said Zhao Huaipu, a professor at China Foreign Affairs University.

But Zhao believed that the gap among the Western world is also likely to grow wider. The US has taken several measures, including the travel ban, against its European allies amid the pandemic. To protect its own interests, Europe as a whole will be less likely to follow the US on every front in the future. While criticisms against China are rising in certain European countries, those which received much-needed support from China, such as Italy, are likely to take a softer stance toward China.

Overall, in the post-pandemic era, cooperation is expected to overbalance competition, he noted.

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