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Europe and Sino-European relations in an era of great changes

A Broadyard workshop titled “Europe and Sino-European relations in an era of great changes” held by the Institute of Area Studies, Peking University (PKUIAS), kicked off at Peking University Overseas Exchange Center on October 15, 2021. Experts and scholars from Peking University, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Renmin University of China, Wuhan University and Hunan University, among others, were invited to the workshop. They shared their academic achievements and conducted in-depth discussion from perspectives of politics, international relations, the science of law, and areas studies.

Prof. Li Qiang, from PKU’s School of Government, delivered the opening speech. He pointed out that Europe had made great achievements in modern times. But it now confronted great changes unprecedented in over three centuries. European studies not only was of great significance to national strategy but also inspired us to think about fundamental problems in human society, he said.

Prof. Niu Dayong, from PKU’s Department of History, moderated the keynote speech session.

Feng Zhongping, director of the Institute of European Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, expressed his belief that the relationship between the US and Europe had encountered huge challenges due to factors such as the shift of the US’s strategic focus and Europe’s declining dependence on NATO after the Cold War. In the future, the development of US-Europe relations might face multiple possibilities, and the concept of “Sino-US-Europe” triangular relations would emerge accordingly, he said.

Cui Hongjian, director of the Department for European Studies, China Institute of International Studies, analyzed Europe’s strategic choices from the perspective of the understanding of the times. He opined that Europe’s judgement of the times was firstly the decline in its status in the world, and, secondly, the change of the international order and the value of discourse. Based on these judgements, beginning in 2016, Europe started a series of strategic planning, only to find that their implementation had been constrained by many realistic conditions. In this sense, the EU was still in the process of strategic trial and error as well as selection, he said.

The presentation by Chen Xin, deputy director of the Institute of European Studies of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, focused on the EU’s adjustment of its foreign economic and trade relations. He analyzed the trade policies of both the US and Europe since last century and expressed his views over current European industrial policy. He opined that changes such as the adjustment and expansion of the EU’s trade policy would have a profound impact on China-EU economic and trade relations.

The first session of the workshop, moderated by Chen Xin, was themed, “China-Europe relations and European region.”

Prof. Wu Qiaoling, from PKU’s School of Economics, analyzed what had changed and what had remained unchanged in Sino-EU relations with the European Parliament’s freezing of the ratification of the EU-China investment deal as a starting point. The current difficulties in bilateral relations could be described as “cold in politics but hot in economics.” Economic and trade relations have always been the ballast stone of bilateral relations, and this characteristic would remain unchanged. In the future, China-EU relations would return to the right track amid continuous corrections as they have done in the past, he said.

Qu Bing, an associate research fellow at the Institute of European Studies of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, analyzed the “cakeism” thinking of the UK’s China policy. The UK intended to divide the political and economic fields in its diplomacy with China to maximize returns. This represented the general psychological characteristics of Western countries except the US, he said.

Assistant Professor Fei Haiting, from PKU’s School of Government, started from the phenomenon of political strongmen in Central and Eastern European countries, and used the relationship between elites and organizations as a framework to study the issue of party oligarchy. He opined that the reason for anti-democratization is the emphasis on the construction of a party competition system while ignoring the organizational construction within the party.

Xu Xiaohong, a lecturer of the University of International Relations, opined that Brexit had stimulated nationalism in Scotland. Scottish independence had certain legitimacy, necessity and possibility, but also faced many obstacles, she said.

The second session of the meeting, moderated by Qu Bing, was themed, “Integrating Europe and European integration.”

Zhai Han, associate research fellow from the School of Law, Wuhan University, expressed her belief that one of the manifestations of the tortuous process of European integration lay in the rejection of the superior status of EU law by the constitutional order of the member states. Constitutional review constituted a conflict between national sovereignty and EU power, she said.

Associate research fellow Zhang Lei, from the Institute of European Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, pointed out that the current European Parliament since 2019 had not only made some resolutions conducive to China-EU relations, but also a lot of resolutions touching sensitive areas. From the angles of parliamentarianism, party structure and US-Europe relations, he analyzed this phenomenon and gave his opinion on the prospects for the future relationship between China and Europe.

Associate Professor Liang Xuecun, from the School of International Studies of Renmin University of China, offered a theoretical reflection on European integration and examined two current aspects of it: EU cosmopolitanism and nationalism. In her opinion, the identity of European integration, to a certain extent, needed to retain the original nation-state framework.

Duan Demin, a tenured associate professor at PKU’s School of Government, analyzed the democratic deficit in the prospect of European integration from the perspective of political science theory. He pointed out that one of the main reasons for the democratic deficit was that the people of the EU currently lacked a collective identity as “Europeans.” This kind of identity was different from traditional nation-state identity. There were still many disputes within Europe over what it is and how to realize it, he said.

The third session, moderated by Duan Demin, was themed, “Methods and problems in European studies.”

Assistant Professor Lü Xiaoyu, from PKU’s School of International Studies, investigated the internal and external crises faced by the EU from normative and governance levels. He said that Europe needs to explore a more centralized or decentralized model to deal with corresponding problems.

Associate Professor Luís Cordeiro Rodrigues, from Yuelu Academy, Hunan University, took the Capuchin missionaries’ defense of Portuguese colonialism in Angola in the 17th and 18th century as an example, and pointed out that the concept of good and evil in religion was applied to African women to legitimize colonization. Much discrimination in Europe had historical origins with this religious view, he said.

Enrico Fardella, a tenured associate professor from PKU’s Department of History, analyzed the diplomatic tendency of Italy in recent years. During this time, the Draghi government strengthened the diplomatic relations between France, Germany, and the US around NATO, the EU, and the Greater Mediterranean Region, and strengthened Italy’s discourse in international affairs. This might allow China-EU relations to develop in a more pragmatic direction, he said.

The participating experts and scholars also discussed topics including the methodology of area studies, current political situation in Western Europe, political transformation in Central and Eastern Europe, and China’s diplomatic response. They also interacted with the audience members.