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Expanding Europe’s toolbox in the face of systemic rivalry with China

May 7 to 10, 2019

Over the course of 2018 and the first half of 2019, the EU and different European actors have found new political impetus to balance their relations with China. After years of waiting to see reforms promised by Chinese leaders materialize, the EU now seeks to address more actively the challenges posed by China’s state-dominated economy and its authoritarian leadership. The clearest example of this new impetus is visible in the 10 action points set out by the European Commission in its strategic outlook, prepared ahead of the latest EU-China summit of April 2019.  

While a few European governments and industry associations have also started to devise new approaches to dealing with China, a common European strategy is still lacking. This is also due to varying perceptions across Europe of opportunities and challenges presented by Beijing. With a view to exploring ways to bridge this gap, the European China Talent Program 2019 brought 15 European early-career professionals to Berlin for an intensive workshop under the overarching topic of ‘Expanding Europe’s toolbox in the face of systemic rivalry with China’. As part of a three-day program, participants met with senior experts and decision-makers from government, industry and civil society.

ECTP 2019

Divided in four groups, participants worked in team to formulate concrete proposals for improving European policy towards China on some of the most pressing issues of the day. In particular, they proposed ideas on how to best handle competition and cooperation with Beijing in response to China’s industrial policy, advancements in military technology, approach to multilateral economic governance and tech-driven domestic governance. EU competition policy, WTO reform, China’s ambitions in space and its plans to roll out a nation-wide Social Credit System all featured in discussions and subsequent proposals. Huawei and the security of Europe’s 5G networks and China challenging good governance approaches and universal human rights were also discussed.    

The fifth cohort of the MERICS European China Talent Program encompassed young experts from national government, public policy, cybersecurity and tech consulting, journalism, think tank, and business lobbying. They add up to an alumni network that by the end of 2020 will count about 100 Europeans working on China from Europe, the US, Asia and the Pacific and who have in the meantime advanced in their professional careers on China across public and private sectors.   

Program’s highlights included:

How to deal with China: the future of EU-China economic relations

  • MERICS China Lounge with Jörg Wuttke, Vice President and Chief Representative of BASF China and President of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China.

A “whole-of-EU” approach to dealing with China?

  • Off-the-record discussions with diplomats from the China Division of the German Federal Foreign Office.

Navigating the economic-security nexus of China’s growing digital footprint in Europe

  • Off-the-record discussions with Jan-Peter Kleinhans (Stiftung Neue Verantwortung) and Mareike Ohlberg (MERICS).

Joint Bertelsmann Stiftung-MERICS Oxford Union-style debate on the motion: “China is winning the systemic competition with the West”

  • Oxford Union-style debate with opening statements by prominent China experts from European think tanks, industry associations and law firms and gathering Berlin-based senior representatives from government, think tanks, trade associations and journalism.

Partner and competitor: dealing with China’s state-dominated economy

  • Off-the-record discussions with Heads of Department and Senior Managers from the Federation of German Industries (BDI).
ECTP 2019

In addition to these thematic sessions, the program involved working group sessions at MERICS for participants to conduct research, brainstorm and draft their policy proposals in team; it also included networking with MERICS researchers and the Berlin China expert community as well as group-building activities, such as a boat trip on the river Spree. At the end of the program, participants presented their suggestions for European China policy in front of an audience of experts from MERICS senior leadership, research associates and policy fellows, and from the Germany and Asia Program of the Bertelsmann-Stiftung, a sponsor of the European China Talent Program 2019.

Since its creation in 2015, the European China Talent Program has put key issues topping European policy-makers’ agendas on China at the center of the program’s discussions. This is to encourage emerging talents to engage with today’s most topical issues on China, and to reflect on how China’s rise impacts Europe’s economic, political and security interests.

Connecting and training what will become tomorrow’s thought-leaders on China, the ECTP offers selected participants a platform to exchange ideas with relevant European stakeholders. Throughout the years, the ECTP has established a diverse network of alumni. Originally starting off as a program targeted at postgraduate students, it quickly grew into a program that caters for some of the brightest early career professionals who – despite their young age – show substantial work experience in different sectors and industries on matters related to contemporary China. As such, the ECTP has developed into Europe’s leading forum for young professionals with a solid China background.

The next call for applications for the European China Talent Program will be published in December 2019, and the sixth edition of the program will take place in spring 2020.

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