EU struggles to come out on top in systemic rivalry with China

From human rights to technology, the European Union's relationship with China is a key issue for the bloc as voters in 27 countries prepare to cast their ballots in EU elections in June.

A large trade deficit, human rights questions and worries about Beijing getting the latest tech are among Europe's concerns about China.

For years the EU has been increasingly economically dependent on the Asian powerhouse.

But EU exports to China decreased in 2023 for the first time in a decade, while total Chinese imports into the EU nosedived to €516 billion – down from €627 billion the year before.

Is it a sign that Brussels is taking steps to fight the bloc's dependency on China? Not according to Alicia Garcia-Herrero, a senior fellow with economic think tank Bruegel.

She told RFI that the decrease is due to China's drive to localise production to reduce its reliance on other countries.

The country "entices foreign companies' interest to localise in China as it gives them access to tenders", she says.

For instance, medical companies can't access hospital tenders to sell their devices unless they subcontract production to local Chinese firms.

As a result, EU companies hardly use European suppliers to serve their needs in China, which pushes down EU exports.

Made in China

The problem is that most – if not all – of the EU's largest multinationals have been investing in China since it opened up to the outside world in 1978.

For foreign companies, this means they "cannot compete anymore", she says.

But those times are over.

Read more on RFI English

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