EU-China relations

Further research

published: 31.10.2023

Profiling relations of European countries with China

As part of the project “China Horizons – Dealing with a Resurgent China” funded through the Horizon Europe research and innovation program, MERICS has developed a database of over 50 indicators with data on Europe’s relations with China, including EU Member States as well as the United Kingdom, focusing on economy, political relations, security, and society.

The main trends identified through this database are summarized in a series of profiles assessing each countries’ bilateral relations with China in the period from 2019 and 2022. These will in turn feed into an audit of Member States’ and the UK’s resilience vis-à-vis China. MERICS chose to start this assessment with the following countries (sorted by alphabetical order):

  • France
  • Germany
  • Italy
  • Lithuania
  • Poland
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • United Kingdom

Further countries will be added over the next two years.

This first set of country profiles shows that European countries are going through a phase of rethinking their engagement with China following the Covid-19 pandemic and Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine.

While becoming more realistic and pragmatic in their dealings with Beijing, their capacity to deal with risks and vulnerabilities often is limited by a dominating debate about economic opportunities. European countries continue to compete for the opportunities to do business with and in China and to attract Chinese investments in Europe.

The cases of France, Germany and Italy highlight the correlation between dense and intense trade and economic relations with a high degree of vulnerabilities. The space for a European offensive agenda vis-a-vis China, pushing its economic and political interests, is shrinking as reflected in the limited European presence in China and the reactive policy engagement.

European perceptions of China are deteriorating. While some countries have taken measures to increase their China-knowledge and capacity, most of them are lagging behind. This limits the ability of countries to proactively develop a China agenda rather than just respond to events, and also it hinders the possibility of the European public opinion in developing a fact-based perception of China.