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A Comparative Analysis of Models of China–EU Relations: Bilateral or Multilateral?

Jinsha Deng, Dongyi Li & Fujian Li

China–EU relations are a rich example of the interaction between a great power and a regional organization. China, traditionally accustomed to bilateralism, has gradually accepted the theory and practice of EU multilateralism. With the deepening of the EU’s integration, China is more willing than ever to treat the EU as a single entity. However, in the evolution of the relationship between China and the EU, China has not taken a passive role; instead, it has shown greater willingness and capacity to actively shape the relationship models. In conjunction with the strengthening of China–EU relations, China has also strived to form better relations with individual EU members. Simultaneously, China attaches great importance to strengthening its multilateral relations with the new EU (Central and Eastern Europe). China takes a pragmatic approach to its choice of models in order to maximize its national interests. However, it should be noted that each model has its limitations and plays a different role; thus, inappropriate model selection might damage relations. This study surveys the characteristics of different models of China–EU relations and their pros and cons. By employing a perspective of comparative regionalism, this study compares the models of China–EU relations to those of China–ASEAN relations to reveal the limits of the subjectivity of regional organizations in their relations with great powers in a system of sovereign states.

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