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Building UK-EU bridges Convergent China policies?

By Ian Bond

This policy brief is the third of a three-paper CER/KAS project, "Shared Values, Common Challenges – UK European Security Co-operation after the War in Ukraine."

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This policy brief is the third of a three-paper CER/KAS project, ‘Shared Values, Common Challenges – UK European Security Co-operation after the War in Ukraine.’ The first brief focused on the European Political Community. The second dealt with co-operation in defence capabilities. This paper focuses on EU and UK policies towards China.

  • Both the EU and the UK are struggling to exploit the opportunities that China offers while managing the risks that it creates. Meanwhile, the US wants its European partners to join it in containing the challenge that China poses. The EU and the UK have many interests in common. But can they co-operate more closely in formulating and implementing policy towards China, and finding common ground with the US?
  • In Xi Jinping’s first term as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party and China’s president, both the UK and the EU were optimistic that relations with China would get warmer – with the UK going so far as to talk of a ‘golden era’ in Sino-British relations.
  • Since then, the situation has deteriorated. Respect for human rights in China has worsened, particularly in Xinjiang. Concerns have grown over unfair trade practices and the potential security threats posed by Chinese involvement in some critical national infrastructure in Europe. And Western governments have grown increasingly concerned about China’s geopolitical ambitions, its willingness to employ economic coercion when it feels its views are not being respected, and especially its partnership with Russia.
  • Both the EU and the UK have become more cautious in their dealings with China, but neither wishes to decouple from it. Instead, both want to find the right balance: trading with China and investing in it, but paying more attention than previously to national security and to avoiding excessive dependencies. There are internal divisions in the EU and in the UK over how tough to be. And both are under pressure from the US, which tends to see China mainly as a dangerous rival.
  • The EU is managing any differences with the US through a number of structured contacts from the ministerial to the expert level. The UK and US have agreed to set up a dialogue on some of the same issues of technology, standards and supply chains in the framework of the ‘Action Plan for a Twenty-First Century US-UK Economic Partnership (ADAPT)’. There would be value in the EU and UK also having a dialogue on these issues.
  • There are many policy areas where the UK and EU have identical or very similar objectives. These include:

Dissuading China from supplying Russia with weapons or other supplies to help its war effort.


Providing alternatives to Chinese loans for developing countries that need help in building infrastructure.


Lobbying and where necessary imposing sanctions in response to Chinese human rights violations.


Running common candidates for key positions in international organisations to prevent China gaining excessive influence.


Controlling the export of military or dual-use technology to China.


Restricting inward and outward investments that might damage European or Western security, to the benefit of China.

Avoiding over-dependency on Chinese supplies of critical raw materials and technology.


Countering Chinese influence operations.


Countering CCP efforts to intimidate or suborn Chinese citizens or ethnic Chinese citizens of other countries.

  • Because the UK chose to exclude foreign policy from its post-Brexit Trade and Co-operation Agreement with the EU, it lacks the formal structures for dialogue that the US and others have with the EU. It already has informal contacts on China with the European External Action Service. The UK should build on these. And over time, it should establish a more structured relationship, covering trade and economic aspects of EU and UK relations with China, as well as foreign policy. The closer the EU-UK partnership, the more effectively both will be able to respond to unacceptable Chinese behaviour. They will also be better positioned to stand up to the US when they have to.

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Sebastian Schnorrenberg

Sebastian Schnorrenberg

Research Associate +44 20 783441-19


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