In May 2020, as EU-China tensions rise, Margareth vestager, EU competition commissioner, expressed concern over Europe’s lack of “good knowledge of contemporary China”. Vestager’s concerns are important because knowledge, perception and policymaking are closely linked to international politics. However, how does a mere deficiency in the Chinese stock market affect one of the world’s greatest economic powers? Simply put, this knowledge gap has at least two critical consequences for the EU. First, Brussels’ limited understanding of China may have a negative impact on the strength of the EU’s many policies involving China, from trade to competition. Second, misperceptions of what China is and what China wants could push the EU towards overalignment with Washington’s strong Chinese position to the detriment of its own interests, which could be better served by a more self-reliant European approach. Consequently, given the stakes, a reflection on the representation of China on which the EU is conducting its policy is long overdue.
Representations are important in social life, including in politics, as they provide a cognitive basis on which individuals and groups engage with outsiders and themselves. So at the beginning Clarification, Jesuit narratives from China fueled the meditations of European philosophers on ethics and non-arbitrary government as a powerful case study, suggesting that sustainable enlightened governance and religious morality were possible. In a way, the European representations of China have played a key role in the rise of European modernism. Nowadays, the meditations of EU bureaucrats on ‘The end of naivety‘and China as’systemic rival‘has led to the hardening of many’ naive ‘EU policies, which have had the advantage of arming the EU cruise ship to navigate better in increasingly geopolitical waters – for example the next anti-foreign subsidy instrument. In both cases, China’s European representations have been essential in engaging with themselves and with the world.
However, unlike the Enlightenment, late European reflections on systemic rivalry, which draw from an “all-powerful” American representation of China, seem to inform many. although politics are moving which directly affect Brussels’ relations with Beijing. But, is this understanding of “almighty” China correct? While it is true that China is a great authoritarian power that may pose certain political and economic challenges for Western states, Beijing is also riddled with systemic weaknesses, which cast uncertainty on its future – for example Aging of the population, decreasing workforce, or massive economic inefficiencies. Thus, any excessive focus on China’s dazzling strengths to the detriment of a fair appreciation of its deep deficiencies could alter the perception of the EU in potentially dangerous ways. In short, sound policy-making should tackle “China-the-Might” without losing sight of “China-the-weak”.
Take Beijing’s foreign policy. Very often, foreign states view Chinese policies as part of a grand strategy aimed to make the world more sinocentric. While such views rightly consider the strategic elements underlying some Chinese policies, they often overlook the complexity of Beijing. policy implementation process. That is, despite the centralization efforts of Chinese President Xi, the strategic policies formulated in Beijing are implemented by sub-state actors according to their interests, which sometimes diverge considerably from those of the central government. Thus, while the Belt and Road Initiative involves strategic considerations, its strategic effectiveness is often undermined by its implementation in the interest of local politicians and Chinese sub-state actors. Many important issues and international misperceptions emerge from these “implementation policies”, such as China’s massive excessive lending to certain countries, which are often mistaken for a problem. debt trap strategy. In this context, it is essential to develop more sophisticated approaches to China as they help to make sense of the usual confusion around Chinese plans and policies. In other words, they generate the kind of “solid knowledge about contemporary China” that should inform sound policy making.
Now take the popular ‘China’s economic powerhouse“, which focuses on the links between Beijing’s GDP and international power, and has informed many Western policies towards China. Political economist Sean Stars found that while Chinese private companies accounted for around 45% of China’s total exports in 2017, they only accounted for 10% of technology-intensive exports, which the Communist Party of China (CPC) sees as a central part of the future development trajectory of the country. In contrast, foreign firms accounted for around 65% of these technology-intensive exports, while joint ventures mainly accounted for the remainder. Nowadays, as China has become the first recipient of foreign direct investment in 2020 and foreign companies seem will not to leave the country, Starrs’ findings on the role of foreign companies in the Chinese economy should remain relevant.
Therefore, when one hears of “almighty China” taking over the world, one must remember that the enduring leadership of the CCP – the primary goal of the Chinese rulers – rests on an economy that is largely fueled by related companies in the United States. In other words, Chinese GDP should not be equated with Chinese might as it only reflects Beijing’s complex entrenchment in globalization, which, depending on various factors, may or may not support its international might. Huawei He was reminded of this the hard way when the Trump administration armed global value chains to shut the company down from its US and foreign semiconductor suppliers.
However, some might say that China could replicate its successful catch-up by solar panels at all levels and resolve its external dependency problems. China certainly steers in this sense, however, after more than 60 years of industrial policy, Beijing’s semiconductor industry is still lagging behind two generations behind world leaders. This failure highlights another popular portrayal of China – Beijing as’technological power‘-, which is also potentially misleading. While it is true that China ranks 14the in the Global innovation index and home to staggering technological changes – for example pervasive digital payment systems -, partly supported by the “natural” inclination of Chinese society towards technological absorption, Beijing’s weaknesses in terms of Basic search make it difficult to promote the kind of scientific breakthroughs that allow countries to move beyond the realm of incremental innovation. In other words, China’s technological might comes with some serious caveats, which go a long way to explaining the struggles of China’s economy. decreased productivity and the associated decline in the growth rate of GDP. In short, this alternate understanding of China’s “technological might” is yet another indication that, despite all of its strengths, China constantly faces deep-rooted weaknesses.
These weaknesses are all the more worrying for Beijing, as they arise at a time when the CCP must lead the country to a new technology / consumer driven development way to escape the trap of middle income. Any failure would shake the Party within it. Therefore, to get a clear picture of China, one has to look beyond the announcements of glamorous foreign investment and blazing warships, and look at things less glittering. It is, for example, Beijing’s ability to build a social safety net to release savings and boost its low consumption, as part of his’Double circulation‘strategy to rebalance China’s growth engine from global markets to its domestic market.
One way to get a clearer picture of the Chinese system is to enrich our traditional understanding of China, as a developmental and repressive state, with some thoughts on the emergence Chinese regulatory state. That is to say, the political action of the CCP is not only political but also functionalist because it must solve concrete economic problems while exercising an important but limited control over the national actors. So, yes, the current CCP policy repression on Big Tech, it is reaffirming its authority. But, it is also about technical considerations, such as streamlining digital markets by responding to consumer demands for digital platforms. abusive practices and data confidentiality. These pragmatic concerns led the CCP to draft a Law inspired by the GDPR, which combines state access to private data and a high level of privacy protection, including in particular the data of deceased persons. However, Chinese Big Tech, which has already refused to hand over personal loan data authorities, are likely to attempt to circumvent new regulations, thus fueling a complex negotiation process between actors with varying degrees of connection to the CCP, which will help shape the Chinese tech landscape. Such important and ambiguous developments are difficult to grasp when one views China as a mere totalitarian state and further underscore the need for more sophisticated approaches from China in policymaking.
This type of more refined representation of China can help make EU policymakers aware that China’s growing regulatory needs could be a path for renewed European engagement, given the EU’s extensive regulatory experience. . However, EU policy makers must keep in mind that beyond ideological considerations, the ‘Plan’ or the market, the regulatory or repressive state, is nothing more than tools to ensure China’s stability under the leadership of the CCP. So engaging more with China to foster trust between politically diverse regimes rather than liberalization may be wise for now. After all, trust will be essential in persuading the CCP that a balanced rules-based world, which is best suited to the EU, is the best environment for China’s stability. Of course, such an approach should be coupled with a certain degree of smart market protection and a strong attachment to the EU’s core values. It’ll be a fine line to walk, but hey, that’s what diplomacy is for.