The rise of China and EU vulnerability

EU3D Research Papers, No. 14, July 2021 (SSRN) 

Cécile Pelaudeix


For well over a decade, the rise of China is increasingly affecting the global balance of power. Keohane and Nye’s classic work on interdependence explain that asymmetrical interdependence is an important source of power. Yet China’s exercise of power affects the EU in a more complex manner than the US. Even if it is an integrated political system, the EU has specific features that can exhibit distinct vulnerabilities. This article substantiates how China uses three types of power (compulsory, institutional and ideational), through various means ranging from FDI, disinformation, cyber-attacks, the bypassing of the EU and of elected representatives, to reach specific targets (critical infrastructure, civil society, national governments), and affect several policies (transport, telecommunication, health, border control, higher education). Beijing’s foreign policy in the EU and its neighbourhood represents an attempt to take advantage of EU’s vulnerabilities (its diversity, uncertain cohesion and the legitimacy requirement) with the ultimate consequences of weakening the relevance and the legitimacy of EU institutions and democracy. The paper suggests that EU’s resilience, in the specific context examined here, relies on three key aspects: (1) the EU and its member states ability to identify the multilevel, multiform and often intertwined threats of Chinese foreign policy to its economy (and strategic autonomy) and democracy; (2) the EU member states’ cohesion achieved inter alia through an appropriate level of stringency of policies and the use of the duty of loyalty, (3) and a strengthening of EU integration and EU external differentiation.


China, Cohesion, Democracy, Differentiation, EU, Integration, Interdependence, Loyalty, Power, Vulnerability 

By Cécile Pelaudeix
Published Aug. 2, 2021 1:47 PM - Last modified Jan. 7, 2022 2:09 PM