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European Union External Action

EU-China relations, fact sheet

Having established official diplomatic ties in 1975, the EU and China can now build on a broad-based framework of bilateral relations. Under the umbrella of the annual EU-China Summit, EU-China relations today encompass over sixty substantive and sectoral dialogues. The EU-China 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation, adopted in 2013, is the highest-level joint document in EU-China relations, setting out cooperation in the areas of peace, prosperity, sustainable development and people-to-people exchanges.

Both the EU and China have changed considerably in the past decades. The rise of China has happened with unprecedented scale and speed and has not only changed the country internally but has also given it more weight on the international stage. This presents major opportunities for EU-China cooperation, in particular in creating jobs and growth in the EU and in supporting China's own economic reform programme. The Joint Communication on elements for a new EU strategy on China, adopted by the High Representative and the European Commission on 22 June 2016, together with the Council Conclusions adopted on 18 July 2016, form the EU Strategy on China which sets out how both sides can take advantage of these openings in order to promote long-term benefits for EU and Chinese citizens.


Two decades ago, China and Europe traded much less with each other. Today, the EU is China's biggest trading partner, while China is the EU's second largest trading partner after the United States. Trade in goods between the EU and China is worth well over €1.4 billion a day, with EU exports amounting to €170 billion and imports to €345 billion in 2016. The EU and China therefore have a significant stake in each other's prosperity and sustainable growth.

Under the umbrella of the annual High-Level Economic and Trade Dialogue, the last meeting of which happened in October 2016, the EU works together with China on key economic and trade issues of mutual interest, including investment, services, procurement and intellectual property rights. Reciprocity, as well as progress in China's announced economic reform programme, and in particular those reforms aimed at giving the market a more decisive role and levelling the playing field, are key for our bilateral relationship.

With respect to sectors in overcapacity, notably, the steel sector, China needs to engage constructively in international dialogue and information exchanges on capacity developments, government policies and support measures. The Global Forum on steel overcapacity provides an opportunity to increase transparency and engage constructively with a view to finding sustainable solutions. The EU stands ready to complement this multilateral avenue of discussion by sharing its wealth of experience in restructuring the steel sector and support China's on-going efforts in the context of a bilateral steel platform.

To address unfair imports of steel, the EU is also using the available toolbox of trade defence instruments. The EU currently has an unprecedented number of trade defence measures in place targeting unfair imports of steel products, including 18 measures imposed on a wide-range of Chinese imports. The steel imports concerned by measures adopted only in 2016 were worth nearly €2.7 billion. Three more steel-related procedures are ongoing. Overall, out of the current total of 108 trade defence measures in place in the EU, 63 affect imports originating in China. While using the current trade defence framework to its ful extent, the Commission is seeking Member States' and the Parliament's approval to its proposals to make the system better suited to the current reality of international trade.

EU firms invested over €141 billion in China between 2000 and 2016. The Chinese investment stock in the EU for the same period totalled over €110 billion. However, while Chinese investment into the EU reached almost €40 billion in 2016, the EU's annual investment into China dropped to €8 billion, a decrease of 23% compared to a previous year and the lowest level in ten years. The Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, which is currently being negotiated between the two sides, aims to improve the protection of investments, boost market access and level the playing field.

The EU and China share a strong interest in each other's investment flagship initiatives, namely the Investment Plan for Europe, the so-called "Juncker Plan" and China's Belt and Road initiative. The EU and China also support efforts to improve connectivity in Asia for the benefit of all European and Asian partners. Vice-President Katainen attended the "Belt and Road Forum" in Beijing on 14-15 May and set out in that context the EU's approach to boosting Europe-Asia connectivity. The EU-China Connectivity Platform, established in 2015, promotes cooperation in infrastructure, encompassing financing, interoperability, logistics, and maritime and rail links across the Eurasian continent.

Strengthening research and innovation cooperation is central to EU-China relations. In the framework of the High Level Innovation Cooperation Dialogue, the EU and China are working towards ensuring reciprocal access to their research and innovation funding programmes. Developing co-funding mechanisms and flagship initiatives in the context of the EU's Horizon 2020 is helping promote long-term joint research and innovation partnerships in strategic areas of common interest.

Active people-to-people engagement between the EU and China contributes to fostering inter-cultural dialogue, promoting cultural diversity and civil society participation. Tourism from China to the EU has increased significantly in the past decade, and more than 30,000 people have already benefitted from scholarships to study, work or conduct research in the EU and China. Under the auspices of the High-Level People-to-People Dialogue, the EU and China promote the upgrading of their people-to-people exchanges through youth and culture projects, festivals and other dialogues. On 11 October 2016 the first China-EU Education Ministers Conference took place in Beijing, with the Sino-Europe Forum on Education Policy Think Tanks held in the margins. Many topics were discussed, including progress in the participation of China in the EU-led U-Multirank and Tuning initiatives. The next High-Level People-to-People Dialogue will take place in Shanghai in November 2017 and will focus mainly on culture, notably the cooperation between the European Capitals of Culture and the East Asian Cities of Culture, exchanges between cultural managers and cultural entrepreneurs and synergies between the European Year of cultural heritage and the EU- China Year of Tourism 2018.Furthermore, steps towards facilitating the use of the legal channels of mobility and combating irregular migration continue to be successfully taken in the context of the EU-China Mobility and Migration Dialogue, the fourth meeting of which took place on 4-5 May 2017. Under the Dialogue the EU and China have just launched negotiations in parallel on a visa facilitation agreement and an agreement on cooperation in combatting illegal migration.

The EU is committed to the promotion of human rights around the world and regularly voices concerns over the human rights situation in China. The EU will continue to work with China and its people to promote human rights and to foster the rule of law and civil society. A dedicated EU-China Human Rights dialogue is held every year. EU Special Representative for Human Rights Lambrinidis has paid regular visits to China.

The EU and China also have a common interest in better understanding their respective legal systems. In 2015 the EU and China agreed to set up an EU-China Legal Affairs Dialogue with a view to further enhance EU-China cooperation on a broad range of issues using mutual learning and exchanges of best practices on the rule of law. The first dialogue was held in Beijing on 20-21 June 2016.

The EU sees many opportunities to build upon China's increasingly active participation in global governance, security and defence issues in areas of common interest. For example, Africa offers significant potential for EU-China cooperation. Working together on crisis settlement, building African peace and security capacities, and fostering economic development and environmental protection are key priorities for the continent and can be better achieved if the EU and China combine their efforts. Successful offshore cooperation on counter-piracy between European and Chinese maritime vessels since 2011 could lay the ground for extending cooperation on peacekeeping and capacity-building onshore.

China's constructive engagement during the Iran nuclear deal has set the tone for further active cooperation in the Middle East. As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China is an important partner for the EU in finding the solution to many conflicts in the region. Working together on tackling conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, addressing the global migration challenge and cooperating in the fight against terrorism are priorities, therefore, for EU-China relations.

The EU seeks a regular and substantial dialogue with China on export control, disarmament and non-proliferation issues. Both sides agree that the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula is essential to ensure stability in the East Asia region. Such cooperation creates a more secure world for us all.

When it comes to cooperation on cyber security, the EU and China established the EU-China Cyber Taskforce in 2012, which addresses economic aspects of cyber security and international cyber issues. The Taskforce has discussed the development of cyber norms and application of international law in cyberspace, internet governance, human rights online, ICT standardisation and other economic aspects of cyber security. 

The EU encourages China to support global standards and institutions, while promoting effective multilateralism with the United Nations at its core. International institutions such as the G20 and the WTO, in which both the EU and China play important roles, are the key fora to work together to find solutions to global challenges such as the world's financial and economic crises. The EU encourages China to play a more engaged and active part in the WTO and in multilateral and plurilateral initiatives, assuming responsibilities in line with the benefits it draws from an open trading system and strengthening the ambition of these initiatives. China's active and constructive engagement is key to ensure that the WTO remains at the centre of the multilateral trading system.

China plays an increasingly important role in international development cooperation. The EU and China are exploring ways to enhance their development dialogue in order to advance bilateral and multilateral cooperation on development and to support the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including through sharing experience, best practice and knowledge, as well as promoting synergies and cooperation in international fora, such as the UN and G20. The EU and China will look for ways to coordinate their approaches and interventions in areas of common interest and discuss options for specific cooperation in third countries of mutual interest, notably  in Africa and Asia.

There is much to be gained from intensifying cooperation on issues of global concern, in particular climate change, energy and resource efficiency, and facilitating trade in environmental goods in which both sides have significant stakes. Based on the Paris Agreement the 2015 EU-China joint statement on climate change, and the 2017 EU-China Summit, the two sides are reinforcing their climate-related cooperation in such areas as domestic mitigation policies, carbon markets, low-carbon cities, greenhouse-gas emissions from aviation and maritime industries, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFC). The on-going cooperation on emissions trading has been expanded in view of the planned nationwide Emissions Trading System (ETS) to be rolled out in China in 2017. There is a shared commitment to accelerate the transition to a low-carbon or carbon-neutral and circular economy. The EU-China Roadmap for Energy Cooperation, signed in 2016, is an important step towards intensifying bilateral cooperation on energy, covering areas such as renewable energy production, energy efficiency, market design and energy regulation. On an international level, opportunities to strengthen energy cooperation are being pursued via the G20, or in multilateral projects such as the ITER fusion reactor project.

The EU and China are working together on sustainable environmental governance. China faces huge challenges in terms of air, soil and water pollution, increasing urbanisation and rural underdevelopment. The EU-China Water Platform and the EU-China Bilateral Coordination Mechanism on Forest Law Enforcement and Governance are examples of successful cooperation between the EU and China to tackle the economic, social and environmental challenges. Both sides are committed to strengthening cooperation on the circular economy. There is considerable scope to strengthen cooperation on tackling global concerns such as deforestation, illegal logging and wildlife trafficking. Work to deepen the cooperation on ocean governance has commenced in 2017 in the framework of the EU-China Blue Year.

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