eu-chinaInspired by a tweet sent in from a reader, we’ve recently started discussing the rise of China on Debating Europe. We’ve had two posts so far on the topic (here and here), and we’ve had a lot of comments and ideas sent in which we’ve been taking to academics, experts and politicians to find out their reactions.

André, for example, left a comment suggesting that the EU should indeed be wary of the rise of China:

In my view, the EU has a lot of reason to feel threatened. China is not only underpricing it in manufacturing goods, investing its money in several European countries and threatening its development objectives in Africa, it is also encroaching upon the sectors in which Europeans believed to have a competitive advantage – research, technology and sustainable development.

We took this comment to Ha-Joon Chang, a Cambridge scholar, leading economist and author of several influential policy books (including 2002′s Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective). Did he agree with André?


Of course, there always two sides. On the one hand: yes, China is taking away some of the things Europe thought only they could do. But on the other hand: China’s growth is opening up a lot of opportunities for European firms. First of all, don’t forget that a lot of what China produces is sold by Europeans; Volkswagen has a huge manufacturing operation in China, for example. And when China becomes bigger and richer, you create a bigger market, so Europe will have greater economic opportunities.

I’m not trying to deny that there are some acute adjustment problems. When my native South Korea rose from the economic ashes, they managed to wipe out the ship-building industry in Europe. If little Korea can do this, imagine the impact of a nation as big as China.

Is there a risk this economic competition could lead to conflict? Should we be concerned that China, for example, does not have a democratic government?

I wouldn’t be too worried. In the last 60 years, we’ve had some horrible wars on an international scale – but we’ve developed international mechanisms to manage global conflict. As for democracy: in the history of capitalist development, very few countries that rise above a certain level of development remain autocracies. Singapore is probably an exception. Korea and Thailand, for example, were ruled by military dictatorships in the past.

You may have an autocratic system at the beginning of your development, but as soon as people do not feel like they live a fulfilling life they will want to have a say. My guess is that there’s a high chance that China will move towards democracy. Already, unbenkownst to outsiders, the country experiences tens of thousands of industrial strikes each year.

We also spoke with Nicholas Westcott, managing director for Africa in the European External Action Service (EAS). Should Europe be concerned by Chinese investment in Africa? Especially where that investment is seen not to be “conditional” on democracy and good governance?

From my point of view, China’s engagement in Africa is natural and it’s a logical progression of China’s development. Insofar as it provides additional resources to African countries, it’s to be welcomed.

I think Chinese investment should ascribe to the same criteria as all others. We are trying to discourage investments that fuel civil conflicts, for example. People are saying China takes a more politically neutral approach – but I think China has as much interest in the future prosperity and stability of Africa as the rest of the world, and the stability of these countries rests on democracy. So, I think there is actually a growing convergence of interests between China and other partners and investors in Africa.

What do YOU think? Is China’s rise an opportunity for Europe? As China’s market grows, could European firms benefit from more customers for their products? Does China have an interest in promoting democracy in Africa, and could China’s development see it move towards democracy itself? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take your comments to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.

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11 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Patrick Leneghan

    Crikey, I must be living on a different planet.

    “Should Europe be concerned by Chinese investment in Africa? Especially where that investment is seen not to be “conditional” on democracy and good governance?”

    Since when did Europe or the US ‘do business’ that was conditional on democracy and good governance?

    Didn’t and aren’t Europe and the US arming, supporting and ‘investing’ in vicious dictatorships around the globe, including Africa?

    What do you mean by democracy?

    How do you think that the world would look if China did business the European or US way?

    Don’t you think that the European and US way of doing business using nuclear armed warships marauding around the planet, setting up military bases around the planet, is not very friendly and can you imagine if China did this?

    As Ha-Joon Chang mentions above, our (European and US) patriotic corporations are doing very nicely in China, thank you very much, having moved the means of production from Europe and the US to China in a blatant exploitation of what was once a developing nation and ensuring back up for those projects with that nuclear arsenal mentioned above. Just who is responsible for underpricing, China or those (our) foreign exploiters?

    Any nation that is not a member of Euro-American cartels that appear to progress independently, have every right to feel concerned with the possible reaction of ‘those who think they own the world’. So the opening statement should read “In my view, China has a lot of reasons to feel threatened by the Northern Alliances as China continues to grow” and that should be a very real worry for all citizens and on all sides…Can you imagine what would happen if China put a Chinese military base, say in a nation in Sth America ? This is exactly what the Euro-Americans have done and are doing in Asia (and Europe, Africa, Sth America etc)…..pj

  2. Christos Mouzeviris

    Why should we stop China or any other region or country that wants to do business with Africa or elsewhere? Each country should be able to do trade with others freely..We can not stop them or anyone..Why do we must always think that we should be entitled to everything while others should not?

    We should allow other regions to prosper, and perhaps it is time to learn to leave with less.. A healthy competition is good…Perhaps it will lead to cooperation. Will China play fair of course…Well was Europe all this time?

  3. Edgaras Mascinskas

    I do believe that every state should have access to freely trade, however I do not think that failing-hegemonic state like United States will allow so easy for China to gain influence in Africa. I think that U.S. is actually driven by “relative gains”, rather than “absolute gains”.
    Also I believe that EU should not be threatened by the rise of China, EU at the moment should more focus to deepen its integration and to create new fiscal and monetary regulations.

    We cannot make clear assumptions or predictions about Chinas economic intentions or its future foreign policy. Even though China is communist country its economy is more or less capitalist. But this does not prove that China will keep on the same economical and political track.

  4. Jayarajan PK

    One nation’s rise cannot be considered a damage to other nations.Especially China,because, Mao Tse Tung said, “People, and the people alone, are the motive force in the making of world history”.ha ha ha …So , how can China help making history again?And how can we underestimate the fiery potential of the people there for democracy and freedom?

  5. hari naidu

    Obama is right now organizing Asian countries at APEC Summit, as he did in Australia, against mainland China’s political and economic influence in the Asia-Pacific Region.

    Part of it is for domestic consumption to ward off GOP candidates (misfits) seeking to replace him in WH. However, the political thrust of his policy frameowork is an attempt to *contain* China’s growing influence in Asia – Pacific Basin area.

    In Africa, I’ve a feeling EU/ACP relations have more or less cemented EUs mutual relations in sub-Saharan Region. Lots of budget and manpower instruments have been invested in Africa during the Lome Convention and now under Cotonu Agreement.
    [Prior to it there was Yaunda Agreement by Colonial Powers.]

    My argument his fundamentally against EU business plan in fascilitating trade and development in African (ACP) countries.
    The objective of development issues are not easily administred from Brussels. I’ve actually promoted decentralizing EU work program and establishing them with adequate technical staff in the Regions – to be cost-effective and closer proximity in program delivery.

    What China has achieved – in Africa – in a very short time is based on its Sino-Centric political perspective; literally meaning that you simply can’t interfere in African internal domestic politics – which the West is used to doing since Colonial days. Obviously China is able to write-down project failures…but African countries are more than pleased with Chinese TA and project financing facilities. Principally because there are no strings attached to them.

    Obama with all his intutitive intelligence – growing up as a kid in Indonesia and Hawaii – should understand that economic development in Asia-Pacific – including African Regions – cannot be tied-aid. US Congress is also toying with (GOP) idea of starting with *zero* aid budget or just aid to Israel…!

    Under Lome and Cotonu, EU is more generous (now) and aid is not tied to sourcing from EU. Mainland China, on the other hand, provides integrated project finance and management including on-site training programmes – which are competitive to EU aid delivery system.

    Bottom line is PRCs cultural/political context, in Africa, is to understand what European Colonialism did to ravish raw material supplies, eg. Congo, and to avoid it altogether…and supplant it with Chinese social characteristics.

    It is working…and may eventually isolate Western influence in the region.

  6. jimmy.

    In all honesty I think we should worry more about Frau Merkel rather than what the Chinese are doing, after all I don’t see them acting illegally in any way shape or form.
    Frau Merkel on the other hand starts mumbling that “this could start a war” in frustration that not everyone jumps and gets into line along with their friends France (who really should know better). My own opinion is that China has come a long long way and it is now her turn to shine!
    Britain will fall further behind as we have been doing since the second world war and should do so gracefully as will the U.S.A. who I’m afraid will find it a lot harder as unlike Britain it has only recently begun, I think their decline will be a lot faster and steeper, may I add that I am in no way a “leftist” it’s just that I see this as a natural progression as history is littered with the rise and fall of great and dare I say domineering nations and empires which as I said above seems a natural occurrence in the world of human kind! No, other nations rise only for them to fall and then the next in line will take the reigns and so it goes on, maybe some day we will realise the mistakes we make and the worlds population can get it together and make it work for all especially mother earth and space exploration, too few on this planet have so much and so many have so little, if only we could find a better way to exist and banish money to the history books, future generations may look back and say, they used a currency and nothing was allowed unless it was paid for, can you imagine where we would be today if they had never changed!
    China might prove to be a domineering and cruel ruler of this world of ours or she might just be the one to lead us to a bright new future, but rest assured if China carries on in the same vein as her predecessors then the only thing that will change is that the boot will be on the other foot but the few will still have their plenty but mother nature will have the final say! More of a thought than anything else, cheers Jimmy.

  7. Xukun Yuan

    to be honest, it’s really rare to see those international investements in chinese medien. If someone open a normal Daily, probably almost every articles are about the social problems inner China. some friends of mine expressed their feeling about this kind of change. The internaltional pages are all about what the USA government did to isolate China, such as TPP, or how the Eurocrisis goes, if we should help them. I think the main target right now in China is balance the different Hierarchie .One thing recently impressed me a lot. We voted the candidates for regional Kommision, (I don’t know if this express are right.) although the process was a litte bit naive, but if you see the scene, it’s really offical and high- level. Some friends of mine said that we can see the democray hope of China in the future. It’s hard for me to comment the Investment in other countries from China, maybe our goals are resources, but at least we are not so openly like the USA. No doubt China’s rise is clear to be seen. We’re very inspired to know your comments about that.

    • hari naidu

      This a good example of how Chinese can take part in our debate.

      Communism will not disappear from the PRC political scene; nor do I suspect will the Politburo. My fear is the power and influence of PLA (People’s Liberation Army) that Mao established to underwrite his political authority.

      Elections are going on the mainland; and CPC is relenting to more and more democracy. However, is it possible that more democracy will ultimately change the politics of PRC?

  8. Stefan Florin Tony

    If we look from another perspective, in every house there is at least one product designed or manufactured in China as also are the houses in which there happens to a product manufactured in the country of residence to be missing. Can be regarded as a danger this aspect? In the long term if China will develop a strategy to use the ones mentioned above will certainly benefit in many ways and can be a danger to Europe and not only.

  9. Peter Schellinck

    Some how it’s not surprising the way progress is developing. Both for China as for Europe, and the rest, the current economic dynamics is an escape from assessing our own economic and political model. We both are looking new areas to progress rather than evaluating if what we’ve done so far makes sense. Europe should first sort out its internal market before escaping to Chine to look for growth whilst China should attend to social and environmental governance. This process is not to be a finger pointing game, rather a wake up call for how is our society evolving, taking Mother Nature as backbone. We are all on one planet, breath the same air however fail to agree on norms and values. Our model needs to catch up with progress made as humanity has matured and the tools are there for all, however are being denied due to the low moral standards society has drifted into (greed culture). So, it’s not so much a matter of whether China would promote democracy in Africa, rather how are they conducting their business and with who? Even in Europe, it’s not all sing and dance with Chinese investments. Just look at what happened with the motorway construction between Warsaw and Lodz, in Poland. Half way through the construction the Chinese contractor run out of cash and just left a mess behind. In short a global free trade is a must as is freedom of movement and speech. Why can’t politicians, Chinese – African – European – etc. adopt current developments and listen to our youth on a society without borders… and become “Poly-ethical”?

  10. Iulian Furdui

    E.U can set up some relations with the Far Eastern markets. The economic epicenter is drifting towards India, Pakistan, China. But we must not forget that China has a permissive communist party. Communism is good to pick a country up from the dust a make something of it. We must be aware that China’s political future is somehow uncertain.

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