Mapping Europe-China Relations

Mapping Europe-China Relations

A Bottom-Up Approach

A Report by the European Think Tank Network on China (ETNC)
Edited by Mikko Huotari, Miguel Otero-Iglesias, John Seaman and Alice Ekman

As China’s rise continues to shape and shake the course of international affairs, and Europe enters a new chapter in its collective history, Europe-China relations are becoming more relevant, but also much more complex. Understanding these complexities requires a precise examination of the various state-level bilateral relationships and interests at play between China and the EU countries. This report is the first in an on-going effort of dissecting and re-assembling Europe-China relations from an EU member state perspective. From such a bottom-up perspective, the report makes a number of observations:

  • For all EU member states, interdependence in economic relations with China has increased and political relations have gained in maturity and depth. 
  • The context of EU-China relations has dramatically changed over the past five years. Europe is encountering a much more proactive China and asymmetries in many EU member states’ relations have turned increasingly to Beijing’s favour. 
  • In dealing with China, Europe is divided and competes with itself. This competition, or at the very least lack of coordination on China policies, stems more from deficiencies within Europe than from a deliberate Chinese strategy to divide the continent.
  • While some common patterns exist, new trends in investment and trade relations with China are highly differentiated across Europe which fundamentally complicates a joint European response vis-à-vis China.
  • China is following its own distinct and flexible foreign policy approach when dealing with Europe. Europe is important for China as an economic partner, but the Europeans – the EU and its individual member states – are also key players in China’s broader global strategic initiatives, such as the ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) project.

  • Despite some modest efforts to develop genuine strategic dialogues, most, if not all European national strategies towards China are dominated by the logic of economics. Most European states are continuing to make hard choices between political ideals, such as the promotion of democracy and human rights in China, and their economic strategy. 
  • The report includes contributions by representatives of the following institutions:​

    • Chatham House, United Kingdom​
    • Elcano Royal Institute, Spain
    • EU-Asia Institute, ESSCA School of Management, Budapest, Hungary
    • French Institute of International Relations (Ifri), France
    • Institute of International Relations, Czech Republic
    • Institute of International Economic Relations, Greece
    • Istituto Affari Internazionali (IAI), Italy
    • National University of Political and Administrative Studies (NUPAS), Romania
    • Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS)​, Berlin
    • Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), Poland
    • Swedish Institute of International Affairs, Sweden
    • The Finnish Institute for International Affairs, Finland
    • ​​The Netherlands Institute of International Relations, ‘Clingendael’, The Netherlands
    • University of Aveiro, Portugal


The  Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS)is a Stiftung Mercatorinitiative. Established in 2013, MERICS is a Berlin-based institute for contemporary and practical research into China.