The EU's China Problem: A Battle Over Norms

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International Politics


This article contends that China's rise is negatively affecting the European Union (EU)'s ability to act as a 'normative' and 'civilian' power in international relations. Specifically, China's rise, and the European reactions to this rise, are interfering with the EU's ability to spread 'new sovereignty', which holds that sovereignty is violable and interference in other states' internal affairs is valid, particularly when human rights issues are concerned. New sovereignty not only defines the EU as a political entity, but also the EU has actively pursued it in its external relations. In contrast to the EU, China has been defending 'traditional sovereignty', which sees human rights as a domestic matter. These competing notions of sovereignty also lead to contrasting models of economic development by the two powers. In discussions of new versus traditional sovereignty, the article focuses on two crucial areas - the role of human rights in the EU-China relationship as well as the two parties' interactions with countries in Africa. These discussions offer insights into both the projection of the EU's power and the impact of China's rise on the international system.