, Volume 92, Number 4

Richard Maher
In 2003 the European Union announced that it had launched a ‘comprehensive strategic partnership’ with China. This policy was intended to elevate EU–China relations beyond prosaic trade and investment issues to address some of the world’s most pressing political and security challenges. Anything approaching a comprehensive strategic partnership over the past decade linking the EU and China has failed to materialize, however. This article clarifies and examines those issues that have impeded a closer EU–China alignment, and that hold the greatest potential for future discord in their bilateral relations. It explains how clashing political values, diverging geopolitical interests and priorities, and competing conceptions of world order has limited and will continue to limit the scope and depth of any EU–China strategic relationship. EU–China relations are today, and are likely to remain, contested, uneven and—apart from trade and investment—shallow, and embody a limited rather than a strategic partnership. As China’s economic, military and political power continues to expand, the EU will need a new conceptual framework towards Beijing. This framework must be able to facilitate cooperation on issues and policies in which there is real potential for mutual gain, but also manage effectively the inevitable tensions and disagreements that arise.

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