A call for multilateralism (and slightly more)

The 20th annual EU-China summit took place this week in the shadow of Trump´s hot-headed statements after meeting Theresa May and Vladimir Putin. The media paid little attention to its outcomes and implications. Trump calling the European Union a “foe” is a catchy headline after all. The handshake and joint communique of two of the largest world economies just flew under the radar.

Shaky environment

The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, accompanied by the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, have been welcomed in Beijing by Prime Minister Li Keqiang at a time when the two powers seem to have a common enemy – Donald Trump. After having imposed tariffs on metal exports from the Union and threatening to hit the automotive sector, it is just about time for the EU to re-evaluate the international trade market and slowly but surely seek to diversify their interests. This diversification has been spotted by the Chinese leadership, which is also hit by American protectionist measures. Pre-negotiations to the summit have entailed a push for mutual cooperation on reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO) and raising a common allegation against the US counterpart in this body.

Does the summit bring any change?

After two years of lengthy negotiations without any plausible outcome, this year´s summit resulted in a joint communique. The EU pushed hard on economic issues such as direct ways to level the trade balance as well as increase its foreign direct investments in the People´s Republic. China, however, is a tough partner to negotiate with and the conclusions remain rather vague. Common ground has also not been entirely reached on intellectual property rights – a major topic on which the US and the EU disagree. However, there seems to be commitment from the Chinese side to brighten up the future of the bilateral relations – no matter how vague the statements. What made this year’s summit different seems to be the will to establish common grounds, especially on topics such as climate change or restructuring of the WTO.

One small step for the EU, a great leap for China

It seems that Trump is beginning to “reap the rewards” of his foreign policy and harsh judgments. A common enemy is a solid ground for bolstering cooperation and overcoming issues which seemed to have been no-gos in the past. The diplomatic message could not have been more obvious – Trump or no Trump, we are ready to fulfill our commitments on the international scene, be it the Paris climate change obligations, upholding the Iranian nuclear deal, or free trade.

By trying to strengthen multilateralism and by making the first moves toward winning the Europeans to its side, China might have laid the foundations for a new world order. But as it typically is with all EU foreign involvement one is left with the pressing question – could we not have made more out of this deal? Is it not time to show the media and the world that real deals are still more valuable than offensive macho talk?

Author: Petra Adamková

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