Request for advice EU-China

December 5, 2018

Professor J.G. de Hoop Scheffer
Chair of the Advisory Council on International Affairs
P.O. Box 20061

Date: 9 October 2018
Re: Request for advice EU-China

Dear Professor De Hoop Scheffer,

China presents both opportunities and challenges for the EU and the Netherlands. In some fields, China is a partner; in others a competitor. There are areas in which Chinese developments run counter to our interests. Strategies such as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) have both positive and negative aspects. Furthermore, China’s efforts to develop a state-of-the-art manufacturing industry (Made in China 2025) call for a response by European policymakers.

The EU has formulated a strategy on China and is also discussing a European investment screening mechanism. This autumn, an EU connectivity strategy will be presented, which – like the Belt and Road Initiative – focuses on the links between Europe and Asia. Will this be sufficient to safeguard European interests? And will Dutch interests be sufficiently served?

In a wider geopolitical and economic context there is much to be said for a joint EU approach to China, as this will have greater impact. However, in practice this has not always proved possible. The economic competition between member states and the different priorities in their respective relationships with China, coupled with the more general difficulty of pursuing a common security and foreign policy within the EU, make it a challenge to speak with one voice. There are of course also institutional and trade policy issues vis- à-vis major strategic partners that influence the stance on China.

Then there is China itself. Time and again, China has proved able to find and exploit weaknesses in the EU’s line of defence, be it European criticism of China’s human rights record or certain Chinese trade practices. An example of this tactic is China’s pledge to invest more in and import more from individual member states as a way of weakening this critical stance. In addition, regional initiatives such as 16+1 (cooperation between China, a number of Eastern European member states and various non-EU countries) make it more difficult for the EU to speak with one voice.

In short, Europe needs to act more effectively in its security and foreign policy and trade and investment policy in response to China’s role and influence in the EU. The government would therefore appreciate receiving an advisory report from the AIV, no later than the end of this year, based on the following questions:

  1. What policy areas are affected by the lack of unity in Europe’s approach to China and how is this manifested? Can the AIV identify the underlying reasons for this as far as the EU is concerned, and what role China plays in this?
  2. Can the AIV indicate the political and economic consequences for the Netherlands in the absence of an effective, united European approach?
  3. Can the AIV indicate ways (relevant to the Netherlands) in which a European approach to China could be made more effective and unified? How could the Netherlands contribute to this process?
  4. What are the Netherlands’ specific interests and position in this regard? To what extent can and should we promote Dutch interests through the EU, or should this be done in other ways?

Yours sincerely,

Stef Blok
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of the Netherland