Updated: Feb 23
Report by Jessica Milano
European Guanxi restarted its activities in 2021 by hosting a webinar with Giulia Sciorati, an Associate Research Fellow at ISPI Asia Centre, for the China Programme. Her PhD dissertation focused on international, domestic, and individual constraints to China's counterterrorism policy choices in Xinjiang from 1996 to 2017.
The webinar has been extensively rich in its content. Sciorati began by addressing China’s international image. As she pointed out, in the “White Paper on Fighting Covid-19: China in Action”, the Chinese government not only mentions internal politics issues but also refers to the need of building a global community of health for all. What is more, it calls for international solidarity and cooperation rather than political contrasts. Sciorati underlined how this White Paper clarifies Chinese intentions to regain a certain international reputation.
The focus of the discussion then shifted from China to Europe, and an analysis of the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) was provided. Sciorati affirmed that Chinese diplomats have been reiterating some concepts regarding EU-China cooperation with great emphasis, such as the complementarity existing between the two entities. In this framework, the CAI seemed paramount to be concluded. On the one hand, the CAI constitutes an unprecedented degree of cooperation that China has ever established with a third partner, on the other hand, the critics were not long in coming (see Deutsche Welle and Bruegel on this). A hot debate rose indeed from the EU institutions, with forced labour as the main issue. The agreement, in fact, provides for Chinese ratification of the ILO convention about forced labour. The main shortcoming of this clause is that it has no deadline. As a result of this ambiguity, a significant contrast rose between the EU Commission, who favoured a more pragmatic approach, and the European Parliament, more concerned with labour rights, as already shown with the 15th December Resolution on Forced Labour and the situation of the Uyghurs in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (full text here).
The lack of a cohesive Europe-China policy is not only seen inside the EU institutions, but also among its member states. Sciorati spoke in relation to this, in the last part of the webinar, about German, French, Spanish and Italian policies and approaches vis-à-vis China. While the first two shifted from a low profile to a more decisive and firm approach, the latter two proved to be way more indecisive. Spain has had a more reactive than proactive China policy, affirms Sciorati. Italy, instead, revealed the drawbacks of its short-term approach to foreign policy. You can have a look at the ISPI Dossier edited by Giulia Sciorati and Alessia Amighini to know more about these and other European countries’ relations with China.
At the end of the webinar, Sciorati replied to many interesting questions regarding the role of the new US presidency in China-EU relations, the technological international rivalry (where the speaker also raised the interesting issue of data rights), and the EU tensions inside its institutions and member states. What becomes clear is the opportunity the EU has to increase its political and economic weight in the international realm. The question nevertheless remains: will it actually manage to do so? Some interesting reflections on these issues can be found in this ISPI report by Alessia Colombo and Paolo Magri (in Italian).
If you want to find out more about the interesting insights Sciorati offered during the webinar, you can watch it on our YouTube channel.