China & EU: Partners or rivals?
Updated 21:30, 28-Nov-2019
Dialogue with Yang Rui 

China and the European Union (EU) are major powers in the world – and increasingly intertwined as trading partners. But are they partners or rivals? CGTN and NDR – Germany's public radio and television broadcaster – recently explored this crucial question, as they co-produced a panel discussion entitled "Dialogue with the World." Co-hosted by CGTN's Yang Rui and NDR's Andreas Cichowicz, experts from both China and Germany discussed the implications of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), trade tensions, Huawei, and other shared concerns.

For example, in the northern German city of Hamburg, official data suggests that more than 550 Chinese companies have invested in this port city. Almost one third of all containers shuttle between the city and China. Thanks to the BRI, Hamburg has become the largest combined sea-rail port in all of Europe. But as China's increasing engagement with the city, a sense of hesitation has emerged in Germany, and across the European continent, toward the BRI, specifically, and toward Chinese investment, in general.

Mikko Huotari, deputy director of the Mercator Institute for China-Studies. /CGTN Photo

Mikko Huotari, deputy director of the Mercator Institute for China-Studies. /CGTN Photo

During the panel discussion, Mikko Huotari, deputy director of the Mercator Institute for China-Studies (MERICS), pointed out that in the broader business sphere, there are plenty of companies and local municipalities with serious interest in the BRI. But the perception in politics must be differentiated. 

Prof. Amrita Narlikar, president of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, added that there are three major concerns regarding the BRI: The "debt-trap diplomacy"; environmental and labor standards; and national-security concerns. "A lot of infrastructure development or technology development can have dual use," Narlikar explained. "If you get a deep-sea port, you can use it for trade, but can also use it for military purposes."

However, Yao Yang, dean of Peking University's National School of Development, countered that most concerns are overstated. "The BRI is basically an economic project initiated by China to reach out to the rest of the world, particularly the Euro-Asia continent," he explained. "China can offer fresh development experience to the rest of the world, especially to the southern countries."

Regarding environmental concerns about the BRI, Wu Changhua, CEO of the Beijing Future Innovation Center, said China is learning from this process – and she herself has witnessed some of these steps forward. Over the past two years, for example, Chinese companies are required to take responsibility for their actions overseas. Environmental protection, she adds, is clearly one area where the EU and China can work together more closely. 


This April, the EU framework for screening foreign direct investments came into effect. Many European countries have individually introduced measures to screen foreign investment, to limit foreign investment in infrastructure and core technologies. "There is a clear intention to target China," Wu observed. "It sounds like a very strong signal to industries, and to the EU member-states, when you look at Chinese investment."

Amrita Narlikar, president of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies. /CGTN Photo

Amrita Narlikar, president of the German Institute for Global and Area Studies. /CGTN Photo

Still, concerning challenges to the current system of global trade, Narlikar said that while the World Trade Organization (WTO) has institutional problems of its own, "Trump has definitely not helped." 

The WTO's appellate body is about to expire, because President Trump has reportedly blocked the appointment of new judges. "The U.S. has not helped in saving the system, but neither has China," she said. She accused China of violating several WTO rules, like trade-related, intellectual-property rights and forced technology transfers. 

Professor Yao held a different opinion. "I don't think the WTO actually has a rule for forced technology transfers," he said. It was an issue raised by the Americans, who actually "don't want to play the game." The WTO has served the world for more than 25 years, and China has significantly benefited from it. "But the U.S. needs time to re-adjust its economy – and also its relations with the rest of the world," said Yao.

Despite the intensifying U.S. efforts to pressure its allies to boycott the Chinese tech-giant Huawei – accusing it of being a potential threat to "national security" – Germany has yet to formally decide on its relationship with Huawei. 

"It's a highly politicized process," said Mikko Huotari. "It's good that politicians take care of that decision, and the parliamentarians look at this issue very carefully." Huawei, as a company, might have the best intentions, he said, but he expressed skepticism about what role, if any, the Chinese state might play in the future, regarding Huawei products.

Professor Yao, however, defended Huawei, emphasizing that this global force in 5G is purely an international company – and one that's investing heavily in the future. He added that the advances in 5G have nothing to do with any government, including the Chinese government. As he stated, "It's a set of standards that are negotiated among companies."


In terms of the current Hong Kong unrest, in which violence has gradually worsened, Yao stressed that "democracy always comes with responsibility. Without responsibility, there is no democracy. There is just chaos." Wu echoed Yao's opinion, saying that what is happening now in Hong Kong is no longer democratic protest, but rather violation of law, as radical protesters are vandalizing property and hurting people. Anyone who carries out this type of violence "needs to be held accountable."

Narlikar expressed her worries about the implications of the crisis: "If the Hong Kong situation is not managed better, that will be a stress-test for European-Chinese relations."


Speaking of the way out, Yao said Hong Kong people are on their own. They have the right and mandate to negotiate a settlement, since Hong Kong is part of China and enjoys an autonomy endorsed by the "One Country, Two Systems" policy.

Meanwhile, Wu sees the new Greater Bay Area strategy — which aims to foster growth and interconnectivity among the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions and nine cities of Guangdong Province, on the Chinese mainland — as a positive driver for Hong Kong's own development. While she said it may not solve problems in the short term, there's greater potential in the long terms. "Potentially," she said, "it's going to create more opportunities for young people to have a better education, a better job, and a future."

Dialogue with Yang Rui is a prime time daily English talk show on CGTN. The 30-minute talk show covers a wide range of domestic and international topics, providing a balanced and critical perspective on current affairs and analysis within the framework of cross-cultural and multi-disciplinary comparisons. 

Schedule: Monday-Sunday
Time (GMT): 0330, 1130, 1930

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