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Europe is waking up to the China challenge. Last month, the European Commission published a plan to reorient European Union’s economic relations with China, calling for a tougher, more skeptical policy toward Beijing. Yet, days after the European Council debated that proposal, Italy hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping, and during his visit Rome officially joined the “Belt and Road” initiative (BRI), the first Group of Seven member and the largest European government to do so. A split among its members will undercut EU efforts to take a hard line toward China: Beijing is already doing its best to foster such divisions.

The EU-China “comprehensive strategic partnership” includes an annual summit, regular ministerial meetings and over 60 sectoral dialogues. The defining feature of this relationship is its economic dimension: China is the EU’s second-biggest trading partner behind the United States and the EU is China’s biggest trading partner. Trade between the two topped $360 billion and China enjoyed a trade surplus in goods of $200.4 billion in 2017.

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