Philippe Wojazer / Pool via REUTERS French President Emmanuel Macron, Chinese President Xi Jinping, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attend a meeting at the Élysée Palace in Paris, France, March 2019

Why Europe Is Getting Tough on China

And What It Means for Washington

Over the past two years, Washington has come to embrace a policy of strategic competition with China. The Trump administration’s National Defense Strategy and National Security Strategy make clear that the United States sees China as a great power rival not only militarily but also in a contest for economic and technological supremacy.

As a result, an effective coalition to manage China’s rise can no longer center on Asian security partnerships alone but must now include the world’s principal concentrations of economic power, technological progress, and liberal democratic values. Among these are many of the United States’ partners in the Indo-Pacific, such as Australia, India, and Japan. But the European Union and its major member states are also becoming increasingly critical U.S. counterparts in dealing with China.

As next week’s EU-China summit approaches, Europe has begun to fundamentally rethink its China policies. The shift is so substantial than even seasoned Asia hands have described it as a “revolution.” Despite differences among the EU member states, the overall thrust of the change is in convergence with the new U.S. approach. As recently as three years ago, member states resisted even modest changes to strengthen EU trade defense instruments, despite the flood of Chinese steel imports. The notion of an EU-level mechanism to scrutinize Chinese investments was still anathema to most European leaders. If the United States in early 2016 had suggested closer coordination in restricting Chinese access to Western technologies, a common public front on China’s non-market practices, or cooperation on infrastructure financing as a counterbalance to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), European allies would have responded with a bemused rebuff.

The same logic that has driven the U.S. policy shift, however, has led Europe to change its stance. In March, European heads of state debated a new European Commission strategy paper that describes China as an “economic competitor in the pursuit of technological leadership, and a systemic rival promoting alternative models of

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