EU-China relations and the Ukraine War

European and Chinese scholars exchange about the implications of the biggest armed conflict in Europe since World War II.

Being the first delegation for FES Shanghai to receive since 2019, four European experts held talks at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) to assess the current state and future of EU-China relations in the context of the Ukraine War.

How has Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shaped the views in Europe and China about each other? How can Europe and China contribute to a settlement of the war? What kind of global order is likely to emerge as the consequence of this conflict? These and other questions were at the heart of this two-day conference that FES Shanghai organized with the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS).

The experts from Belgium, Italy, Poland and Spain, as well as online participants from Germany and Slovakia exchanged their views with colleagues from China. This debate featured a wide range of different viewpoints that circulated around China’s positioning towards the war, the nature of its relations with Russia, the role of US-China tensions and the broader outlook of EU-China relations in the context of an increasingly multipolar world.

The participants discussed various assessments of the war, its genesis, development and possible settlement. Notably, the Chinese position paper from February 2023 and the plan recently put forward by Indonesia were debated. Whereas Chinese participants urged for a quick conclusion of the war and to focus on other fields of possible cooperation, European speakers underlined how deeply the war has changed the thinking in Europe and that any conclusion of the war has to be subject to the will of the Ukrainian people.

Generally, as the discussions showed, both China and the EU feel the need to adapt a more strategic approach in their international relations. While the age of unbraked globalization that only followed economic considerations has ended, both players find themselves in a new global situation in which countries seek to strike a balance between economic interests and strategic security considerations. Both sides reaffirmed that de-coupling is in no-one’s interest, but instead Europe and China are aiming to achieve ‘de-risking’ or ‘dual circulation’. As one participant put it: “We will never fully trust each other, but we still can work pragmatically together.”

In addition to the conference at the SIIS, European experts also used the chance to hold talks with scholars from the department of European Studies at Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) and visited researchers of the Shanghai CPC Party School/ Shanghai Administration Institute (SAI) to talk about recent domestic developments in China.

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