Countering the Dragon
A Theoretical Approach to the European Union’s Strategy for China
Since the establishment of diplomatic ties between the European Union (EU) and China in 1975, EU-China relations have grown to encompass annual summits, regular ministerial meetings and more than 60 sectoral dialogues. In 2016, the EU adopted the Joint Communication Elements for a New EU Strategy on China and the Council Conclusions. These documents constitute the EU’s strategy for China. However, the EU’s strategy documents leave some questions unanswered, most important of which concerns: what is the EU’s position on China? This thesis analyses the preference formation of actors, and the content of the EU’s strategy for China from a theoretical perspective. The research design applied to study this case is congruence analysis. Congruence analysis is an explanatory small-N research design which aims to find empirical evidence for the theoretical relevance or explanatory leverage of a particular theory, in comparison to other theories. The research design employs three theories: realism, liberalism and constructivism, to find out which theory provides the best framework to understand the EU’s strategy. These three theories are selected because they each possess a robust set of core assumptions for foreign policy most likely to provide explanations for this case. The three theories provide expectations regarding the preference formation and the final product of the strategy. Whereas the interests-related propositions concern themselves with the preference formation of relevant actors, content-related propositions are about the textual content of the Council Conclusions. The empirical section of this thesis looks at the formation of the preferences of the member states first. Realism’s expectation that member states are protective of their sovereignty is somewhat matched by the empirical observations. Liberalism’s explanation of domestic preferences, especially those of business and industry, provides a better explanation of the preference formation of member states. A focus on human rights and rule of law issues seems to lack from the EU’s interests, unlike constructivism expected. The second section of the empirical analysis looks at the content of the EU’s strategy for China, the Council Conclusions document. Against the expectations of constructivism, the Council Conclusions focus little to the improvement of China’s human rights and rule of law. Furthermore, the document devotes less attention to normative issues, in favour of trade and investment issues. Realism and liberalism prove equally capable to provide explanations for phenomena in EU-China relations, such as the EU response to the Belt and Road Initiative. However, liberalism’s focus on domestic preferences and economic interdependence explains why the EU’s strategy focuses on economic issues. Furthermore, liberalism predicts that speaking with a unified voice, rather than as 28 member states, is a challenge in EU-China relations that the EU seeks to overcome. This thesis argues that liberalism provides the best framework for understanding the case.