EU should remain independent from US-China rivalry

Global Times

The EU recently signaled its increasing desire to bond with the US as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to enter the White House. In order to gain strategic autonomy and raise its voice in the international community, Brussels hopes to get Washington on board by hyping the so-called “China challenge,” despite the structural contradictions between the two sides.

A draft EU plan seeking to rebuild the transatlantic partnership with the US listed proposals covering every sector from digital regulation to tackling the Covid-19 pandemic, calling it a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to forge a new alliance to counter China’s rise, reported the Financial Times.

Biden’s election has raised hopes for Europe to mend ties after the US went through the Obama administration’s Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy and then the Trump administration’s solo game.

Setting up a united front on technology is one of the main aims. Another report by Politico said that the European Commission will propose a “Transatlantic Trade and Technology Council” to set joint standards on new technologies in order to prevent China from establishing economic dominance in a number of high-value sectors.

Holding up high the so-called “China challenge” reveals the Western world’s anxiety about China gaining an advantage in in the era transiting from informatization to digitalization while both the US and Europe are struggling with the pandemic and economic contraction.

Amid the epidemic, China has seen rapid development in digitalization, with wide application of big data analysis and artificial intelligence, further raising the Western World’s desire to set up obstacles to contain the development of Chinese technology.
The “honeymoon” of the EU with the new Biden administration may offer a chance for them to stand closer to reach some policy coordination, given that Biden has also shown his intention to return to multilateralism and reshape the US-led alliance.
As for the EU side, it has its own tangible aims under the China-targeted proposals, including an intention to address differences between Brussels and Washington such as a digital service tax and trade disputes.

Following Biden’s US-led global alliance, however, is not part of the plan for the EU, which has had an increasing desire to pursue strategic autonomy in recent years. And rebuilding trust in the US following Trump’s unilateralism is another issue. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that all 27 EU member states will be on the same page. Also, the lengthy Brexit process has caused internal friction in the EU.

Rebuilding the transatlantic partnership will not be easy. The honeymoon won’t last forever, especially when the basic contradictions of the two sides remain.

Meanwhile, the Chinese economy is gaining momentum with its technologies thriving through the years of suppression by the US-led anti-China clique. It has become a crucial player in the digitalization arena. Recently, China proposed the Global Initiative on Data Security to uphold data and supply chain security and advance the digital economy, which has been actively responded to by a growing number of countries.

With nearly 1 billion netizens, China is the world’s largest big data market. Cutting the market out of the global arena may not be a realistic approach for the EU and the US.

On the other hand, China and the EU have been holding talks in order to promote cooperation despite the pandemic. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin in September said that it is natural that China and the EU, with their different history, culture, social systems and development stages, have differences on some issues, but that it won’t and shouldn’t affect mutual dialogue and cooperation.

The article was compiled based on an interview with Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International Affairs at Renmin University of China.