KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAIs China using differences between European countries to its own advantage? Some analysts argue that China is employing a so-called “divide and rule” approach in its relations with Europe, focusing on bilateral deals with individual Member States and creating regional forums that exclude the EU.

If so, can China really be blamed? Surely the fault lies with European countries for failing to put together a more coherent and coordinated China policy? As Shada Islam, Head of Policy at our partner think-tank Friends of Europe puts it:

shada-islamThere is a feeling in Brussels that China is somehow trying to divide and rule with Europe, striking special different relationships with member states and that somehow this is eroding and endangering the EU-China relationship.

We recently recorded a video question from Bertram, who wanted to know how a more cohesive image of Europe can be promoted in China and among the Chinese public.

During Friends of Europe‘s recent Europe-China Forum in Brussels, we put this comment to Men Jing, Professor of EU-China Relations and Director of the EU-China Research Centre at the College of Europe. How would she respond to Bertram?

We also put Bertram’s question to Jonathan Peel, Vice-President for External Relations at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). He argued that the big EU countries will always have their own foreign and trade policies, but that it was in the interest of smaller Member States to work together and present a more coordinated front:

Is Chinese foreign policy playing EU Member States off against one another? Should Europe present a more cohesive and coordinated China policy? Or are the differences between EU Member States too great? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Peter Fuchs

59 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    Why wouldn’t they ?

    The differences between the Nation States in the EU are insurmountable which means the EU will never be the US of E the federalist minority dream about & as nation states we all use the differences within other countries / alliances to meet our own needs.

    Even within the EU countries will work to undermine each other to the benefit of their own.

    • avatar

      Every nation in Europe used to be made up of different tribes fighting each other and now they are not. People claiming other people aren’t ready for something are themselves the ones holding back progress.

      Note by the way that undermining each other in relation to external juggernauts like china is in the long run NOT in anyone Europeans interest.

      Those individual nations going to China to improve business relations are damn fools! you are bound to have a better negotiation position doing that as the EU.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      “Those individual nations going to China to improve business relations are damn fools! you are bound to have a better negotiation position doing that as the EU”

      But to whose benefit will that negotiating position be? certainly not the individual countries of the EU.
      Negotiations done at EU level are biased in favor of the big exporters in Europe and any benefit to smaller countries from negotiations done at a EU level are outweighed by the business and export costs imposed
      Smaller exporting countries may not get such a good “deal” negotiating with China on their own but at least they keep 100% of what they do get

  2. avatar
    David Alan Roden

    Is that or is that not a seed question to get us to think we need “more eu”? Total propaganda – this is very subtle – which is a worrying sign

  3. avatar
    James McManama

    For once, I agree with Ivan (if only to an extent). Why wouldn’t they? However, where we disagree is that I believe EU countries can overcome their differences. It would be to the advantage of all of us to present a more united common foreign policy toward China.

    After all, China is a big country, and there are only two kinds of countries in Europe today ? those that are small and know it, and those that are small and do not.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @James McManama
      The EU is smaller than

      Latin America &
      North America

      and its population is DECLINING too.

      With China, India and Africa expected to exceed populations of c1500m by the middle of this century – it is clear that the EU is TOO SMALL – both democratically and geographically.

      The EU should re-appraise its position – its far too small to be of significance in such a big multi-polar world UNLESS it joins up with other blocs or countries perhaps? (RE: TTIP+ maybe?)

  4. avatar
    Ivan Burrows

    James McManama

    ‘Small’ countries the world over exist & thrive while big countries in your EU suffer decline & misery.

    Your federalist ideology may have a different flag & a different anthem but it as the same barking mad controlling ‘European’ dogma that as taken the peoples of Europe to war to many times before.


  5. avatar
    Dany Haas

    Belgian living and working in inland China – Luoyang – .Most people do not know European countries, big or small. They know London, Paris, Amsterdam.

  6. avatar
    James Beckles

    China is being extraordinarily strategic in it’s foreign policy with different EU countries. There is no uniform strategy but a number of different multi-lateral agreements with individual countries along with relationship building with EU institutions. Nations with their national interests at heart are viewing China as a crucial Asian and world trading partner, so it is to China’s benefit they capitalise on this. Will this have an impact? Yes.

  7. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    All other super powers, countries or blocks do…. So why are you asking? They know Europe’s weakness and they manipulate it for their own advantage. We can not blame them. All we have to decide is, will we continue to allow them to do so, or will we show them a united front? It is up to us.

  8. avatar
    Αργυρης Κουκουτσιδης

    “back in USSR”.why u r so hostile to private sector of the economy?why don’t u want foreign investments?and how can we fix the economy?”follow the money.”CHINA has the money now.with our permicion.

  9. avatar
    Mhitsos Xanthos

    Indeed, “China” aka the USA has created the Ukrainian-Russia conflict for it’s own advances.

  10. avatar
    Christiane Vermoortel

    Is China bashing the next step after Russia bashing ? Don’t you think the US is using differences between European countries at its own advantage more ?

  11. avatar
    Alex Tselentis

    Stope removing the blame from the EU .. EU is a total failure, war raging in Ukraine, ridiculous sanctions that hurting Europe more than they are Russia, the denial can go on and on untill Europe explodes, maybe thats what some want in Brussels.

    • avatar
      J. Afonso Martins

      I don’t think the EU is perfect , but we have great quality of life and personal rights, the most important things for most (and I’m from Portugal, things aren’t brilliant here) . And about Russia, what are the impacts that those sanctions have had in your country?

    • avatar
      Paul X

      Sounds like a mantra from someone who’s undergone EU brainwashing to me

      How about, United has proven to be a complete disaster, divided worked for many centuries

      The choice is simple

    • avatar

      Equally, it could be claimed that you have undergone conservative/anti-EU brainwashing, Paul. If divided had worked indeed, people wouldn’t have formed organisations such as the EU. There have been such alliances since antiquity so there must be some benefit to them.

    • avatar
      bert van santen

      Dived in culture and valuta the European Community has survived till 2002, politically called united as the EU,the EU has proven to be a total economic failure.

    • avatar
      Paul X

      “There have been such alliances since antiquity so there must be some benefit to them”

      Yes Yvetta, I think one was called the USSR wasn’t it?

    • avatar

      No, I was thinking about the Athenian League etc…google the word “antiquity” if you don’t know what it means. And read about the leagues. It is interesting.

  12. avatar
    Egon Witte

    Never..This is a priviledge..of America, Russia, Big Pharma, Big Oil .Big car…

  13. avatar

    I thought it was US , playing European countries and Russia against each other to its own advantage, much more so than China. Why wouldn’t Europe think of presenting a united front to US ? No guts ?

  14. avatar
    Diogo Duarte

    Yes, we need to act as whole. We don’t want to be divided in something so important as trade deals with other countries. Of course we aren’t a federation, and european countries maintain their power to make deals with China – this isn’t a problem. But we need to think in large scale: it is good for us – and I mean the European Union – not consider the EU position and make deals in separate? I don’t think so, because China can make different deals with european countries and create a problem in our equality. We are in time of crisis, and we can see the differences between rich and poor countries. It isn’t good to enforce the differences. We need to act as whole, or act aligned with other european countries. We need to say “yes, we are different but we are together in our differences”.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Diogo Duarte
      The EU is dominated by ‘nasty’ Germany and ‘poodle’ France. Recently France imposed tarrifs against China because of alleged ‘solar panel’ dumping. When China threatened to retaliate with sanctions effecting France ANDGermany – the EU BACKED DOWN.

      This is the state of things to come unfortunately – the EU is TOO small to succeed.

  15. avatar
    Ivan Vikalo

    think it is an unnecessary question as it is obvious that China is using all possible advantages, as any one else would do. The question is really why we allow loophole from which others can benefit? as people have already said, united we stand, divided we fall.. really well said

  16. avatar
    Vinko Rajic

    Conflict with Russia is going to be excellent for China . We are going to loose our export to Russia and China is going to take most of it .

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Vinko Rajic
      There are far bigger and far more important markets to focus on than a mere petro-state like Russia.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @Vinko Rajic:

      You are so right. China and Russia already formed a twosome to ensure their energy supplies are tied up without the US/EU threat to their economies. And Europe would do well to rid itself of US hegemony as quickly as it can move on its feet. You are clinging to the wrong lifeboat. Russia and China are far more circumspect.


  17. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    the role of China is creating a new geopolitical reality the economies of China and Asia are the ones that are causing more geostrategic impact at the global level

  18. avatar
    Ioanna Geor

    yes and every country in this world uses other countries’ weaknesses for their own good. Pff, rhetorical question

  19. avatar
    João Sargedas

    Starting with the golden visas in Portugal, yes of course, but the biggest problem comes from a giant fail in the EU: The fact that most of our importations from china are of goods that we are prohibited to manufacture due to environmental or legal matters. I’m not against the environmental protection in the EU (i even think they should be even better), but i’m against importing those goods with low environmental standards from China when the Europeans can’t make those products… that after all will end up being deposited on European soil (landfills, incineration, etc), along with the heavy metals and other chemicals which they possess

    • avatar
      J. Afonso Martins

      A lot of waste is sent back to china for processing. they import something like 70% of the worlds waste, and Europe definitely exports a large percentage of their waste since it’s cheaper and easier to sell it.

  20. avatar

    China is so far removed geographically that I don’t think it matters…Putin only turned to China in order to counter the effects of European reaction to his own policy/military action, the scale of which he did not seem to have anticipated.

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive


      “Far removed”? Ignore- underestimate China (“Alibaba”) to your on peril! Not quite an “Arabian Nights” tale- even better! EU politicians could go & learn a lot of the secretes & successes of Ali Baba’s phrase how do “Open Sesame” & stop dreaming about an overly (un) important political & human rights union!

    • avatar

      Alibaba was Arabic and not Chinese. The EU is mostly expressing its people’s wishes when it campaigns for human rights and Europe has got some of the highest living standard in the World. But if you like China that much you can always move there. You might just be lucky enough to be the next one on the firing squad’s list. You know they don’t like fora like this one here over there or things like reform etc.

  21. avatar

    I see China’s aims as solely economic. One deal with the EU won’t bring as many benefits as many smaller deals, where China the giant is making the small countries of Eastern Europe feel important and securing important investments. Two years ago, the Chinese Prime Minister came to Romania together with about 100 millionaires to invest in our country. I could remember the poetic speech he held in our parliament, speaking of historic alliances, and our Prime Minister’s awe-struck face, when all that was at stake was money, not some important strategic alliance.
    Still, the EU does have some common agreements with China, mainly on trade.

  22. avatar
    Maia Alexandrova

    I don’t see any reason to have a “front” against China, instead of simply co-operation and action on mutual interests. China is not a threat to Europe.

    A united front is necessary against USA. They often employ bullying practices towards other countries, especially the smaller ones. They are also fuelling the conflict in Ukraine, supporting the Ukrainian government’s aggression against Ukrainian citizens and duping European countries to get involved in the sanctions war between America and Russia. China is the winner in all of this, Europe is the looser.

    • avatar
      J. Afonso Martins

      We should cooperate with China, but not the USA because if their aggressive foreign policy? China will bully anyone it thinks it can bully as long as it benefits them, just like any other country with “dreams” of becoming the worlds greatest super-power.I’d like Europe to strive for independence.

  23. avatar

    Should Europe present a more united front towards China?

    “The united front towards China” ? What China ? $ that China ? The largest market on the planet China ? Allow me to express my concern regarding the abject inequality among european countries “in front” of austerity dictated and imposed by we all know who. The “not so fortunate” should have an alternative to “Troika”, I guess.

  24. avatar
    Rudi Spoljarec

    yes,using allready from 2000., and now the other way round, but still China does it’s job

  25. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    China is all business- their export market is flexible & ranges from first to third world countries- & they even export people! Why would a Chinese business man choose to knock on the door of a Brussels “United” Commissioner” and not go directly to a German CEO, British CEO or whatever European company- to discuss his business with? What can “political Brussels” offer? Statistics, reports from think tanks & the need to feel important?

    In a free market economy business does not need a “united political Agent”! Stop dreaming political- all important US style empire!

    Is the eagerness for TTIP to be found that the U.S. goods and private services trade deficit with the EU was $65 billion in 2013? It surely would reverse in favor of the US if they could have it (their)- “Frankie boys my way”! The global export picture:


  26. avatar
    Kai Liu

    We Chinese actually don’t know much about the differences about European counrties. We make friends with those who are friendly to us. So except your parents, who doesn’t take advantage of others in the relationship?

    • avatar
      J. Afonso Martins

      It’s called cooperative strategy.

  27. avatar
    Vicente Tavares

    Oh yes! Germany that does not has shoes and textile industry forced EU to open up the borders to China ruining the countries with industries of the Mediterranean border. While EU charges 3% of customs duties on these goods, China starts on 90% . However, Germany has a motor industry and, of course this industry is protected by quotas of off-EU cars. For some reason, China is the first importer of German goods. In exchange, Germany sell cheap the other European countries. When are we going to implement the reciprocal customs tariffs?

  28. avatar
    Vicente Silva Tavares

    Oh yes! Germany that does not has shoes and textile industry forced EU to open up the borders to China ruining the countries with industries of
    the Mediterranean border. While EU charges 3% of customs duties on
    these goods, China starts on 90% . However, Germany has a motor industry
    and, of course this industry is protected by quotas of off-EU cars. For
    some reason, China is the first importer of German goods. In exchange,
    Germany sell cheap the other European countries. When are we going to
    implement the reciprocal customs tariffs?

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