By MICHELLE NG
Global Business Journalism reporter
The European Union faces the complex task of bridging the tense U.S.-China relationship while advancing its own political and economic interests, said veteran Chinese reporter Xu Qinduo.
While the EU relies on the United States for security and energy needs and has pro-democracy values that are more aligned with Washington’s, it continues to maintain ties and cooperate with Beijing in areas such as commerce and climate change, Xu told students at Tsinghua University’s School of Journalism and Communication on Nov. 16.
“People expect the EU to play the role of a bridge to bridge the differences between Washington and Beijing… and on certain issues, to push both countries to work together for the benefit of global peace and stability, and in the fight against climate change,” Xu said in his lecture titled “Europe, caught in the middle of China-U.S. tensions.”
Xu hosts CGTN’s "Dialogue" program, an interview show that takes a in-depth look at current affairs in China and worldwide. He is a senior fellow at the Pangoal Foundation, a Beijing-based public policy think tank, a research fellow at the Centre for China and Globalization and an adjunct professor at Renmin University of China.
Xu was previously the producer and host of the TODAY show at China Radio International and the editor-in-chief of China Investment magazine. He is a former Washington, D.C., correspondent for China Radio International and has received the China Journalism Award, one of the most prestigious journalism prizes in the country.
In his lecture, Xu noted that the EU seeks to avoid becoming enmeshed in U.S.-China tensions, which have been elevated in recent years amid long-running disagreements on issues such as trade and technology.
Still, there has been a recent thaw in the Sino-U.S. relationship following the meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and his American counterpart, Joe Biden, on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation nations' summit in San Francisco on Nov. 15.
Both leaders struck a series of agreements, including restarting military cooperation and curbing the flow of fentanyl into the United States.
“That [meeting] is the focus of the entire global media because most countries are expecting a stable relationship between China and the U.S., which is the anchor, in my opinion, of the global situation,” Xu told students in the "Hot Topics" course of the Global Business Journalism program.
Any souring of the relationship between the two world’s largest economies brings instability, uncertainty and a multitude of challenges, he said.
The EU is an important player, as it is closer to the U.S. but desires to rely less on Washington in what is often referred to as its strategic autonomy ambitions, he said.
The growing gap in GDP growth between the vibrant U.S. and stagnant EU economies is also concerning, he added.
In 2022, the EU27 economy was 4% smaller than the U.S. economy and is forecasted by the International Monetary Fund to be 6% smaller than the U.S. economy in 2028. The growth gap has hurt European nations’ innovation and research capabilities, he noted.
“That’s not encouraging for the European countries [that are] lagging,” he said. ”[If] you have a small economy, you don’t have enough money to invest in education, science, innovation and it affects everything about your development.”
Citing remarks made by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in March 2023, Xu said the EU is “not trying to decouple from China,” as it is neither viable nor in its interest to do so, but the focus is to reduce risks.
“They’re talking about de-risking – but to what degree they will go, how far they will go? That’s the question right now,” said Xu.
As the EU has 27 countries, which include France, Germany and Italy, some members have different ideas about how this will play out, he added.
An example is in the area of electric vehicles, where the European Commission has launched an anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese EVs. The move was initiated by the French government, which is pushing to strengthen Europe’s industrial defenses against China’s fast-growing EV industry.
But it has sparked concerns in Germany, whose auto industry has a strong interest in the Chinese market, that such a probe could spark a tit-for-tat cycle which could escalate into a trade war.
“The Germans are able to laugh, they don’t see any necessity to have such an investigation as they think competition is good and because they are much stronger in the auto industry,” said Xu.
“So different countries have different interests sometimes. I guess it’s hard for them to reach a consensus, to have a uniform policy,” he added.
A key event to keep an eye on is the upcoming 2024 U.S. presidential election, which will have wide-ranging implications across the globe, said Xu.
While several people are running for the presidency, the same two men who faced off in 2020 are largely dominating the field: President Biden and former President Donald Trump.
In particular, Europe, and other countries, would have to figure out what a possible second Trump administration would mean for them and the world we are living in, he said.
“We don’t know whether Trump will be the president at all, but obviously there’s a lot of concerns, if not fear, in the EU,” he said.