China is of fundamental importance to the EU and its member states, Maria Martin-Prat, director of the European Commission Directorate General for Trade, said at the Lennart Meri Conference in Tallinn on Sunday.
"China is becoming increasingly competitive and innovative, and it is serious that it will become a leader in a number of fields," Martin-Prat said.
"They have a competitive advantage which is enormous — 1.3 billion people," she noted. "They can mine data without restrictions, which is the ideal environment for AI, new discoveries in medicine."
According to the expert, the EU should not count on China's single-party, Communist Party system collapsing. "We have to learn to deal and work with China," she added, noting that the EU has to find an economic relationship with the most populous country in the world. "China is of fundamental importance to the EU and its member states."
Expert: China's foreign investments part of larger strategy
According to Roland Freudenstein, deputy director and head of research at the Wilfried Martens Centre for European Studies, China's foreign investments are part of a larger strategy, despite the fact that the country won't admit to this.
"Think tank National Endowment for Democracy used the term 'sharp power' to describe the actions of China and Russia," Freudenstein said during a discussion concerning China's activities in Europe, adding that sharp power is what helps authoritarian regimes manipulate public opinion abroad.
"When we talk about Chinese foreign direct investments (FDIs), it is definitely intended to project Chinese sharp power in some cases," he said. "Greece vetoed a EU statement on human rights in China after a Chinese firm heavily invested in the Port of Piraeus." According to the expert, this demonstrates that China is sending a message through FDIs even without official statements.
Freudenstein emphasised the importance of national screening mechanisms of invesmtnets and their coordination on the EU level.
He said that China is increasingly using its policy institutes and universities in the West, while at the same time restricting the ties of Western civil society organisations with its own civil society. He added that any normal cooperation with China's civil society has been rendered impossible.
Editor: Aili Vahtla