The Big Three's Game in International Relations

China represents a one-party system, and the European Union and the United States are liberal democracies. The following article examines the three major players, their policies and opportunities for cooperation under the leadership of the 46th President of the United States, Joe Biden. In the eyes of the EU and China, the US is returning to the multilateral international system. However, suspects about China’s efforts cross party lines in the US and the EU.

US-China policy

Before 2001, the goal of US policy was to incorporate China into the international community. During the Trump administration, tensions between the US and China increased. During Trump’s presidency, the US embarked on a protectionist policy and a strict immigration policy. Trump and his advisers took a tough line with China on bilateral issues and saw Beijing as an aggressive and strategic competitor that must be prevented from achieving its goals. The instability of US-China relations was reflected in Trump’s China policy, particularly regarding Taiwan, North Korea, and the South China Sea. That was likely to deepen friction with China and increase the risk of communications disruption. The policy of the Trump administration was paradoxical about its allies in the Asia-Pacific region. Trump’s ”America first” policy strongly criticized allies such as Japan and South Korea for being free riders with Washington’s support. Trump stressed the unsustainable costs of US troops and threatened to withdraw from the East Asia region if Tokyo and Seoul refused to pay more for defence. However, Trump also suggested nuclear weapons to Japan and South Korea.
While Joe Biden’s administration considers China to be its biggest competitor, the administration also claims that the US must carefully manage its relations with Beijing to avoid military conflicts in the region. Regarding the new deal between US-China, Biden has announced that he considers the tariffs imposed by the previous administration to be detrimental to American businesses and consumers. Biden has also stated his willingness to work together with China on the COVID-19 pandemic and to mitigate climate change.

The core of the EU’s foreign, security, and China policy

At the heart of the EU’s foreign and security policy is the global strategy adopted in 2016. It aligns the EU’s general foreign and security policy interests, principles, and corresponding priority areas for action. It is in the general interests to promote peace, security, success, development, democracy, and rules-based, multilevel international action.
The latest EU Commission, led by Ursula von der Leyen, has clarified the EU’s ambition to be a major player in the global arena. This is one of the Commission’s six main priorities. The goal, entitled ”A Stronger Europe in the world”, calls for an active approach and global responsibility by the EU. The objectives identified by the EU Commission include a strong and united voice, a coordinated foreign policy, the building of a defence union, support for global order, a free and fair trade system, and support for the World Trade Organization’s reforms.
EU-China relations place particular emphasis on economic factors. China is the EU’s second-largest trading partner and the EU is China’s largest. The EU’s approach to China emphasizes, in particular, that the country is too big and influential to be ignored. Relations between economic areas have been strained, in particular, by the fact that China has been perceived to operate under different rules. Key shortcomings have been identified as a lack of transparency, laws, and regulations that discriminate against foreign companies in China, a strong presence and control of the economy, favouring state-owned companies in the market, and failed enforcement of intellectual property patent rights. EU imports from China have grown from €351 billion to €419 billion over the last five years. EU exports to China, in turn, have grown from 170 billion dollars to 225 billion dollars.
The EU and China represent very different political actors. The EU is a democratic coalition of states, whereas China is a one-party system and a dictatorship. The EU’s China Strategy for 2016 states that China is at a critical stage in its development. The EU has also expressed great concern about China’s human rights situation, but on several occasions, the EU has been unaffected, also due to the its incoherent attitude towards the country. Although the EU’s China strategy’s goal is to speak with one voice, action has focused on bilateral agreements between the individual Member States and China.

Bilateral relationships

The US is the EU’s main trading partner. EU imports have increased from 249 billion dollars to 294 billion dollars since 2015, while exports have increased from 371 billion dollars to 450 billion dollars. The trade surplus is obvious, which has eroded relations between economic areas under the previous US administration. The European Parliament’s website states that their bilateral relationship with the US is the most important in the world. This is mainly because the actors are the largest economic and military powers in the world. They lead world trade and play key roles in international relations.
During President Trump’s reign, US trade relations were the subject of a reassessed. Criticism of China’s trade imbalance, in particular, also extended to the EU, which also led to additional restrictions on products entering the EU. The US has been in talks with both China and the EU, but in the wake of the COVID-19, President Trump prioritized talks with China to make up for the huge imbalances in the countries’ trade relationship. The political relationship between the US and the EU dates back to 1953. Transatlantic cooperation has been economic, political, and military in nature. However, during President Trump’s tenure, all aspects of the relationship have been called into question, especially the political and military ones. EU’s military dependence on the US has been critically examined from both Brussels and Washington.
However, the most significant change is political. The political transatlantic relationship that has led the world during the previous decades is not the same anymore. Speeches and actions that have called into question free trade, globalization, and even liberal democracy have been heard from the US to a significant extent over the last four years. Above all, this has led the EU to cautiously break away from its dependence on the US and seek to differentiate itself as a truly independent political, military, and economic actor in world politics.


The Biden regime is expected to pursue more moderate and polite diplomacy than Trump, but suspicion about China’s efforts crosses party lines in the US. Antigen Blinken, chosen by Biden as his secretary of state, has said that the US supports the decision to declare China’s action in Xinjiang as a genocide. The US return to international negotiating tables is the most significant issue in Biden’s rise to power if asked about EU. In addition to joint climate talks, the EU is seeking to work with China in regards to dealing with COVID-19. The US is still an inherent partner in the EU’s eyes, unlike China, which is questionable on democracy and human rights issues.
Author: Bijan Rezai Jahromi
Picture: European Parliament

The author is MSSc student is University of Helsinki. Rezai Jahromi’s major subject is political history and he has concentrated on EU policy and the Middle East. Currently he is doing his internship at the Finnish Red Cross.