This paper has a general and also a sectoral angle to analyse EU-China relations. Apart from putting this relationship into a general historical and geopolitical context, it also elaborates on some key policy areas where European experience seems valid for China to design policies to counter some of its challenges. The paper therefore has a very broad range of topical coverage including a brief overview of the history of Sino-European relations, current day geopolitical issues, as well as social and regional policy issues. As far as the level of mutual understanding as a prerequisite to effective know-how transfer and/or cooperation, is concerned, the paper argues that a lot remains to be done. Barriers are partly historical partly due to differences in general political features and partly because of cultural and ideological imprints. This holds true even if EU studies have a long history in China and China studies in Europe are getting ever more prominent in social sciences and in the study of international relations.
The paper looks into three topical areas for which it gives comparative analyses, pinpointing similarities and differences and also possibilities for China to draw on the EU experience. As regards multilateralism in international relations, the EU is a key partner for China in building a multilateral global order, although the EU is not a fully suitable model to conceptualize multilateralism for three reasons: the EU is not a true hard power, the EU and the Chinese concepts of “multilateralism” have a significantly different meanings, and finally, the EU itself by definition has no nationalistic ambitions on the global scene. As regards social policies, the EU is an obvious model for inspiration, but the European social models themselves have come under pressure and proved unsustainable lately, therefore China is best advised to look at the more sustainable versions of the European social models, such as the reformed German or some features of the Scandinavian ones.
Moreover Chinese studies on the European social systems has often been ideologically motivated, therefore often produced biased results. As regards regional policy, the EU system can be interesting for China to overcome the following shortcomings of the Chinese system: the lack of a single official organization specialized in regional management; the failure to identify the optimal target region for regional policy; the lack of effective financial support instruments; the over-dependence on government and failure to include non-governmental actors.