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Advancing Collaboration & Persisting Constraints: EU-China Security Collaboration & the 2020 Strategic

David Hallinan

While EU-China relations may be often characterised by a clear divergence of values and political norms, both sides have increasingly recognised the relationship's latent potential for cooperation in the area of security in recent years. In particular, new avenues for collaboration have emerged since 2011 in the area of maritime security as part of international anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, and in UN peace keeping operations in Mali where a Chinese infantry has been stationed alongside several EU member states. Both sides reviewed and extended the scope of the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) on its tenth anniversary in 2013, while seeking new symmetries in both parties' own independent strategic development plans, i.e. China's 12th Five Year Plan and the EU's 2020 strategy. These efforts resulted in the publication of the EU-China Strategic Agenda for Cooperation, which sought to exploit available opportunities for policy coordination, including in the area of security. This noteworthy expansion of cooperation in the security field has, however, developed against the backdrop of the continued maintenance of the EU's arms embargo on China, the extension of significant trade diplomacy elements in EU foreign economic policy towards China, and a fundamentally less concessionary EU approach. How can this seemingly contradictory dual-track mode of development in the Sino-EU relationship be understood, and what potential exists for the 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation to address persisting constraints in the relationship? This paper finds that while the Sin-EU relationship is advancing on multiple fronts, significant constraints persist mainly due to a significant divergence of values and political norms. The EU seeks to play the role of a stabilising partner by advancing collaboration in the soft security domain, but does so mainly so as to safeguard its own economic interests.

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