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China’s grand industrial strategy and what it means for Europe

Frederico Mollet

Date: 21/04/2021
In its 14th Five-Year Plan, China has mapped out a grand economic and industrial strategy that upends many of the assumptions that underpin the EU's approach - how can the Union respond?

With this new plan, the EU can expect tougher competition and greater protectionism in its economic relations with China. A further blurring of the public-private sector distinction in the country's economic model will make it harder to combat unfair Chinese competition. And while China is actively courting foreign investment, it is also signalling greater protectionism to products not made in China, which will lead to European investors' and exporters' interests diverging. 

To balance the scales, the EU should adapt its own strategy by:

  • continuing to develop trade instruments to combat unfair competition at home and abroad;
  • ensuring that these instruments and institutions can respond to unfair competition from private companies benefiting from state capital investment;
  • ensuring that the extensive and often opaque government holdings in private firms are reflected in foreign direct investment and export controls;
  • incorporating China's attempts to reconfigure supply chains into its own assessment of strategic dependencies, identifying areas that could become vulnerable;
  • prioritising the improvement of access to the Chinese market for goods and services produced in Europe;
  • developing alternative sources of growth, and boost demand and reduce barriers within the Single Market to offset greater Chinese protectionism; and
  • ensuring that its industrial policy efforts will enable European industry to match China's developments.
The present moment may mark a turning point in EU–China relations: in a little over three months, an agreement on an investment treaty was followed by sanctions and countersanctions. Geopolitical conflict ratchets up between China and the US. Beijing's new economic course will reshape its global relationships.

China's protectionist turn and growing one-sided dependencies will threaten Europe's long-term strategic autonomy and undercut any attempts to construct a balanced approach to EU–China relations. If the EU's multi-track strategy is to work, a concerted effort is required to preserve economic parity and balance between the two powers.

Read the full paper here.
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