European Foreign Affairs Review

Volume 20 (2015)

Volume 20 (2015) / Issue 3

Hang Yuan, Jan Orbie, 'The Social Dimension of the EU-China Relationship: A Normative and Pragmatic European Approach?' (2015) 20 European Foreign Affairs Review, Issue 3, pp. 337–355


Recent decades have seen an expansion in EU-China relations. While this phenomenon has been examined extensively in the existing literature, bilateral interactions in the social field remain largely unexplained. This article investigates the evolution of the social dimension in EU-China relations and finds that social issues receive little attention until the mid-1990s, but increase in importance thereafter. To explore this phenomenon, we found both explanatory power and limits in the ‘normative power Europe’ versus the ‘pragmatic power Europe’ perspectives. Pragmatic concerns help to explain why social issues have become more closely linked to economic than to political ties. Yet they fail to account for the EU’s relatively successful export of social security norms to China. The European Union’s (EU’s) normative power could be enhanced rather than inevitably threatened by China’s rapid development. Analysing the social dimension also throws light on the complexity of the EU-China relationship; a complexity that is largely ignored by existing observations.

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ISSN: 1384-6299
ID: EERR2015031