Opinion & Analysis

National perspectives on Europe’s de-risking from China

The concept of “de-risking” has become a significant focus for the European Union (EU) in managing its relations with China since first proposed by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in March 2023. However, the interpretation and policy responses to de-risking vary across Europe, reflecting diverse national perspectives.

This year’s report from the European Think-tank Network on China (ETNC), of which Ifri is a co-founding member, examines how 21 EU member states and the United Kingdom view and approach de-risking within their national contexts, including practical steps they have taken towards the enforcement of this much talked-about policy.

The report highlights the diversity of national approaches to Europe’s de-risking agenda. It showcases countries’ internal debates (or lack thereof); highlights common concerns and risks associated with China; tracks de-risking measures adopted at national level and discusses potential barriers to Europe’s de-risking from China. Instead of a uniform and consistent implementation of EU policy, the situation more closely resembles a game of Broken Telephone with each country following its own interpretation and approach. The report offers a mapping of these national perspectives, grouping the countries into Early Advocates, Endorsers/Followers, Cautious Adopters, and Opponents.

France: Chinese undertones in a broader quest for economic security

In the report, Ifri’s John Seaman explains that France is a proponent of “de-risking” both as a way to hedge against a slide towards deeper decoupling from China and as part of a broader approach to bolstering economic security and achieving greater economic sovereignty for the EU. As such, France is considered an “early advocate” of a de-risking approach in that Paris was functionally a proactive supporter of it even before it became a guiding concept for the European Commission. Indeed, China’s growing economic clout and ambitions are a source of concern for the French authorities and French firms alike. However, they are one concern among many as power politics increasingly undermines the pillars of a more liberal economic rules-based order. In practice, at the national and European levels, France has actively pursued the development of offensive industrial policy tools to boost economic competence and resilience, as well as defensive measures to protect critical infrastructure and strategic economic assets and guard against the leakage of key technology and know-how. While such policies are considered necessary, it has also sought to avoid directly antagonising Beijing in the process.

About the Author

John Seaman is a Research Fellow in Ifri’s Center for Asian Studies, which he joined in 2009. He holds a Master in International Affairs from Sciences Po, Paris, a Bachelor of Arts in International Economics from Seattle University, studied as a NSEP David L. Boren Scholar at the Beijing Center for Chinese Studies (2002-03), and worked at the U.S. Mission to NATO (2004-2005). He coordinates Ifri’s participation in a number of European research networks on China, including as a co-founder and coordinator the European Think-tank Network on China (ETNC) and a core participant in the Digital Power China (DPC) and ReConnect China (Horizon Europe) consortiums. From 2013 to 2018 he was a non-resident International Research Fellow and twice a Visiting Fellow with the Energy and Environment Program of the Canon Institute for Global Studies (CIGS) in Tokyo.

Read the full publication here