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European responses to China’s expanding global footprint

April 24 to 27, 2018

Today, Europe meets China in a growing number of regions and domains and in a much more frequent manner than ever before. China’s rise and its expanding global agenda have brought to the fore new challenges in Europe-China relations, while also opening up new spaces for cooperation. With a view to exploring these new realities, the fourth edition of the annual MERICS European China Talent Program brought 15 European early-career professionals to Berlin for a three-day workshop under the overarching topic of ‘European responses to China’s expanding global footprint.’

Beijing’s global ambitions have become cemented. At the October 2017 19th Party Congress, Xi Jinping announced that it is time for China to ‘take center stage’ in world affairs. China’s diplomatic apparatus came out strengthened from the March 2018 National People’s Congress. In the meantime, China has already become an ever more active political, economic and military player internationally. Its rise as an economic power, with considerable innovation potential in emerging technologies, has come along with growing political influence and an expanding security footprint around the globe. 

Official plans and policies drive and reveal China’s global ambitions: In its foreign and security policy, for example, China wants to have fully-modernized armed forces by 2035 and a world-class military that can fight and win wars by 2050; politically and economically, China’s foreign trade and infrastructure plan – the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) – has an increasingly global scope, and its economic goals are accompanied by Beijing’s long-term political and geostrategic interests; in the realm of new technologies, China aims to become the world’s number one Artificial Intelligence (AI) innovation center by 2030. 

With a focus on those elements of China’s global ambitions that are especially relevant for Europe, MERICS selected 15 outstanding candidates through a competitive selection process from more than 100 applicants. They were selected for their promising profiles as future shapers of Europe’s relations with China, proven in-depth knowledge of China and current affairs, and expertise on the themes identified as most crucial for this edition of the program. 

As such, the fourth cohort of the MERICS European China Talent Program encompassed future leaders from government, industry, civil society and academia from nine European countries. They have embarked on international careers with a strong China focus as researchers in international think tanks, analysts in well-known public affairs and consulting firms, early-stage academics in prominent institutions, as well as junior diplomats in national governments. While they are all European, they work in international hubs not only in Europe, but also in the US, China, and Australia.  

Divided in four working groups, participants developed policy proposals on how Europe can make the most of and contain the risks associated with China’s global trade and infrastructure push under the Belt and Road Initiative; China’s rise as a global technology leader; the Chinese Communist Party’s global political influencing efforts; and China’s emergence as a global security actor. The program also offered a platform for participants to discuss these issues with senior leaders on China policy from industry, politics, diplomacy and think tanks.  

The program’s highlights included:

China’s rise as a global technology leader and implications for European businesses

  • Off-the-record meeting with Heads of Department and Senior Managers from the Federation of German Industries (BDI).

Joint Bertelsmann Stiftung-MERICS Oxford Union-style debate on the motion: “In ten years’ time, China will have substantially undermined Europe’s political and economic system”

  • Oxford Union-style debate with opening statements by prominent international scholars and practitioners and participation by senior representatives of politics and industry over a traditional German bratwurst dinner.

China’s rise as a global security actor and emerging spaces for Europe-China cooperation and competition

  • Roundtable discussion with Helena Legarda (MERICS) and Meia Nouwens (International Institute for Strategic Studies, London), lead researchers of the joint MERICS-IISS “China Security Project.” 

The role of larger EU member states in the promotion of Europe-wide interests vis-à-vis China

  • Off-the-record meeting with diplomats from the China Division and Policy Planning Staff of the German Federal Foreign Office.

Beyond these thematic sessions, the program involved working group sessions at MERICS; networking and group-building moments, such as a welcome dinner and a boat trip on the river Spree; a feedback session with MERICS researchers; and final presentations by the four working groups followed by discussion with MERICS’ President, Heads of Program, fellows and research associates.


Selected program output

Blogpost: "Responding to China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Two steps for a European strategy" by Viking Bohman, Jacob Mardell and Tatjana Romig, June 26, 2018.

Blogpost: "Europe's AI strategy is no match for China's drive for global dominance" by Caroline Meinhardt, Michael Laha, Rebecca Arcesati and Václav Kopecký, June 29, 2018.

Since its creation in 2015, the European China Talent Program has put the most topical issues in Europe-China relations at the center of discussions. This is to adapt to the fast-changing reality of one of Europe’s most dynamic relationships with a foreign country. Past iterations of the program addressed inter alia new Chinese trajectories into Europe and European China policies in times of political fragmentation.

The next call for applications for the European China Talent Program will be published in December 2018, and the fifth edition of the program will take place in spring 2019. MERICS aims to further institutionalize the activities of the expanding network of alumni and alumnae of the program. MERICS remains committed to supporting European expertise on China and connecting young China experts from across Europe.

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