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China–EU Connectivity in an Era of Geopolitical Competition

Publisher: SIPRI
SIPRI, Stockholm:
March, 2021

The long-standing relationship between China and the European Union (EU) is being subsumed into a broader geopolitical competition between major power centres. Alongside cooperation, elements of competition and rivalry have been sharpened by a re-evaluation of the bilateral relationship by EU actors. Areas of cooperation have included Chinese involvement in the EU’s internal connectivity projects—specifically in transport and digital networks. This report examines this cooperation and assesses its prospects. 

Enhancing connectivity within and around the EU to facilitate trade and commercial relations was relatively uncontroversial even if initiatives were never fully aligned. But the space for common projects has been narrowed by political divergence and new sensitivities in the EU regarding the security implications of Chinese investments. China understands that the EU’s scrutiny of its investments and restrictions on its involvement in connectivity projects are affected by EU–US relations. Despite these tensions, the report shows that constructive ways forward in this globally significant relationship are still possible, both within and beyond the connectivity domains.


1. Introduction

2. The evolving approach to connectivity

3. The evolving China–European Union relationship

4. Transportation connectivity

5. Digital connectivity

6. Conclusions


Dr Ian Anthony was the Director of SIPRI’s European Security Programme.
Dr Jiayi Zhou is a Researcher in the SIPRI Conflict, Peace and Security Programme.
Dr Jingdong Yuan is a Senior Researcher and Director of the SIPRI China and Asia Security Programme.
Fei Su is a Researcher in the SIPRI China and Asia Security Programme.
Jinyung Kim was an intern with SIPRI’s China and Asia Security Programme.