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Cooperation on regional and global issues

59 - Relations with the US on Asia

Grade: C+
Unity 2/5
Resources 3/5
Strategy 2/5
Impact 3/5
Total 10/20
Scorecard 2015: C+ (10/20)
Scorecard 2014: B- (12/20)
Scorecard 2013: B- (12/20)

EU members acted alone to build ties with China, much to the annoyance of the US

In 2015, European and US views and interests in Asia diverged significantly. At the EU level, Europe sought to cooperate with the USon Asia, but member states’ commercial incentives meant that China could play a game of divide and conquer.

The US opposed the creation of the China-led AIIB and lobbied European nations, and East Asian allies, not to join until China provided assurances about standards of governance. European nations did not have a unified position on the bank. After extensive bilateral contacts with China, the UK became the first European country to join and others swiftly followed. The British move was widely perceived as an attempt to curry favour with China.

The Obama administration responded with an off-the-record comment by a senior official that accused Britain of“constant accommodation”of China. In the months that followed, the Obama administration was roundly criticised at home and in Europe and Asia for opposing the AIIB on principle. In fact, the 14 EU states that joined did play a constructive role in shaping the governance of the institution. Nevertheless, the dispute revealed a significant transatlantic divergence on approaches to China, with the US viewing China primarily through a strategic lens and EU countries seeing an opportunity to develop bilateral trade and investment ties with Beijing. The episode culminated in a state visit to the UK by President Xi Jinping, which was heralded by the British government as opening a golden era in UK–China relations, but was widely criticised in the US.

The transatlantic disagreement over China is not primarily about this divergence between the EU and the US, but about the decision of EU member states to go it alone. The allure of Chinese investment is such that this trend is likely to continue in 2016.