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BIPR | From Embrace to Disgrace: Past and Future of EU-PRC Relations
From Embrace to Disgrace: Past and Future of EU-PRC Relations

November 30, 2023 - 18:00

Romano Prodi - Enrico Fardella - Sergey Radchenko - Flavia Giacobbe

Event Recap

The panel opened the discussion with former President of the European Commission and former Prime Minister of Italy, Romano Prodi, who acknowledged the historical shift in European-Chinese relations over the last few decades. What started as a close, embracing exchange during the 1970s, entailing bilateral relations and increasing trade, quickly pivoted at the end of the 1990s and early 2000s where relations between Europe and China began to cool.

Professor Enrico Fardella elaborated that this period marks a critical point for policy makers and academics alike, posing the question as to how the EU got 'lost in this transition' - between the promotion of interdependence with the PRC and the shift to 'de-risking' from it - and where it can go from here. He detailed how China crafted policies that deepened European dependence on China, with Xi Jinping's first mandate in 2012 marking China's more assertive stance towards reshuffling the world order. Accordingly, in 2019 the strategic outlook of the European Commission was that China was making moves to revise the international order, labeling it a "systemic rival." To further villainize itself, Beijing's position on the Russian invasion of Ukraine only exacerbated this issue.

Today, despite increasing tension, China and the EU still play a large role in each other's economies, with 52% of strategic imports to the EU coming from China. Paradoxically, while the EU is dependent on China for imports, China is just at dependent on the EU for exports. Fardella hypothesized that the EU could possibly utilize this as a defensive mechanism against China's strongarmed approach of implementing restrictions on rare materials which in turn hinders Europe's green transition. Moreover, the most recent meeting between the EU and China immediately following Russia's invasion into Ukraine led to no improvements in relations, with some describing it as the "dialogue of deaf." Without a more concrete agenda from China, Europe is committed to focusing on its internal electoral campaigns and is hesitant to commit to anything explicit.

Most importantly, Fardella articulated the crux of the issue for China, as the rise of this nation coincided with the West's capacity to absorb excess Chinese production. With that know slowing down, and there being no more space to absorb China's growth, China has important decisions to make regarding a reformation of its current economic model.

Regarding Sino-Russian relations, Professor Sergey Radchenko stated that the "Sino-Russian relation is not as close as some fear, but not as broken as some of us hope." With Putin's decision to invade Ukraine, Radchenko believes that China understands that Russia is the best ally it has, and so it will continue to support Russia indirectly including by buying oil and hydrocarbons at discounted prices to keep money flowing into Russia. Nonetheless, Chinese interests in the war are limited, as China does not want further escalation. Radchenko declares that China's preferred position is a stalemate. The fundamental interest in a frozen conflict keeps Russia cutoff and dependent on China, enabling China to bargain and gain more resources.

Recorded Video:

From Embrace to Disgrace: Past and Future of EU-PRC Relations

Supported by the Associazione di cultura e di studio italo-americana Luciano Finelli Friends of the Johns Hopkins University
hosted by Professor Sergey Radchenko

Romano Prodi
Keynote: Former President of the European Commission and Former Prime Minister of Italy
Engaging Beijing: Successes and Failures
Enrico Fardella
University of Naples L’Orientale
The Dusk of Sino-European Relations
Sergey Radchenko
Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe
The Myth of the ‘Unlimited Partnership’ and its Influence over PRC-EU Relations
Flavia Giacobbe
Chair: Formiche magazine and Airpress


Romano Prodi is the Former President of the European Commission 1999-2005 and Former Prime Minister of Italy 1996-1998 and 2006-2008. He is currently President of the Foundation for Worldwide Cooperation and Adjunct Professor of International and Public Affairs at Brown University. Previously he was Chairman of the United Nations-African Union High-level Panel for Peacekeeping in Africa (2008-2014) and professor at CEIBS (China Europe International Business School) in Shanghai, where he is currently a Member of the Board. Prodi first entered politics in 1978, when he was appointed the Italian Minister of Industry, and in 1995 founded the "Olive Tree" center-left coalition. The coalition won the 1996 election, and Prodi was appointed Prime Minister, remaining in office until October 1998. The measures introduced by his Cabinet enabled Italy to meet the Maastricht criteria for joining the Eurozone. From 1999 to 2005, Prodi served as President of the European Commission. During his presidency, the euro was successfully introduced; 10 new countries from central, eastern and southern Europe joined the Union; and the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe was signed. In the 2006 parliamentary elections in Italy, Prodi again led the center-left coalition to victory, and again became Prime Minister, serving until May 8, 2008. From October 2012 to January 2014 he served as the Special Envoy of the Secretary General for the Sahel. Prodi received his law degree at the Catholic University of Milan and completed postgraduate work at the London School of Economics. He has held research and teaching positions at the University of Bologna, the Lombard Institute of Economic and Social Studies, Stanford Research Institute, the Free University of Trento, Johns Hopkins University SAIS Europe, Harvard University and Brown University.


Enrico Maria Fardella is Associate Professor at the Department of Social and Human Sciences of University of Naples L'Orientale. He is Director of the ChinaMed Project, Global Fellow del Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C., Visiting Scholar at John Cabot University in Rome and member of the editorial board of OrizzonteCina monthly review. His fields of interests are: the history of Chinese foreign policy; China relations with the EU, the Middle East and Italy from the Cold War to the present.


Sergey Radchenko is the Wilson E. Schmidt Distinguished Professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. He has written extensively on the Cold War, nuclear history, and on Russian and Chinese foreign and security policies. He has served as a Global Fellow and a Public Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Centre and as the Zi Jiang Distinguished Professor at East China Normal University (Shanghai). Professor Radchenko's books include To Run the World: the Kremlin's Cold War Bid for Global Power (Cambridge UP, forthcoming in 2024), Two Suns in the Heavens: the Sino-Soviet Struggle for Supremacy (Wilson Center Press & Stanford UP, 2009), and Unwanted Visionaries: the Soviet Failure in Asia (Oxford UP, 2014). Professor Radchenko is a native of Sakhalin Island, Russia, was educated in the US, Hong Kong, and the UK, where he received his PhD in 2005 (LSE). Before he joined SAIS, Professor Radchenko worked and lived in Mongolia, China, and Wales.


Flavia Giacobbe is Editor-in-chief of Formiche magazine and Airpress. As a journalist, she has a long lasting experience in the direction of editorial products that manage to communicate with authority and continuity with the main national and international stakeholders and influencers. The monthly magazine Formiche has become in the last years a leading paper in institutional communication. The magazine AirPress, a monthly publication covering aerospace and defence policies, has established itself among stakeholders as an authoritative reference point for the reflection and the analyses aimed at the sector's main actors.
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