Nordic-China Cooperation: Challenges and Opportunities

Publication: Nordic-China Cooperation: Challenges and Opportunities

To download the publication please click on the download link at the bottom of the page

Edited by: Andreas Bøje Forsby

CNARC member: Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI)

Executive summary: This report, commissioned by the Nordic Council of Ministers, investigates current relations between China and the five Nordic countries. It sheds light on the range of interconnectivities and collaborative practices, mapping their scope and recent history across various dimensions, not only from an overall comparative perspective, but also from the individual perspectives of the five Nordic countries and China. Specifically, the report zooms in on five issue areas – business and innovation, sustainable development, research and education, welfare solutions and people-to-people relations – where opportunities exist for enhanced cooperation. At the same time, the main obstacles and challenges to Sino–Nordic relations are identified, including differences of political values and the burgeoning US–China great power rivalry. Furthermore, examining the rather limited measures taken by the Nordic countries to adopt a joint approach to China, the report discusses the extent to which such a joint approach could be a desirable complement (not alternative) to individual Nordic countries’ bilateral relations with Beijing as well as wider EU China relations. Employing a number of issue- and country-specific perspectives, Sino–Nordic relations are explored in different ways by a group of scholars and practitioners with professional ties to the Nordic countries. Towards the end of the report, a set of recommendations is proposed for how to advance the Nordic countries’ relations with China.

In taking stock of the current state of Sino–Nordic relations, the report makes the following overall observations:

  • China plays a central role in the management of international order on which the Nordic states are highly dependent. This is particularly true with respect to macro-economic coordination, international peacekeeping, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the fight against global warming. More generally, China and the Nordic countries seem to share a strong interest in upholding the multilateral institutional framework of international order, which has come under increased pressure in recent years.
  • For all the Nordic countries, China has become the second-most important non-European trading partner, second only to the United States (or Russia in the case of Finland). While Chinese foreign direct investment (FDI) in the Nordic countries is growing, it is still relatively insignificant compared to American FDI in the region.
  • The Nordic region is not among China’s largest overall economic partners, nor is it closely affiliated with China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI). However, Nordic expertise, technology and innovation skills are in high demand in China, especially with respect to green growth and sustainable development solutions that are critical to China’s overall modernization objectives.
  • The Nordic countries enjoy both a significant soft power and marketing potential in China based on Nordic culture, design and high-quality products, all of which seem to resonate well with the Chinese population. Yet, this potential remains largely untapped from a joint Nordic perspective (more on this below).
  • While each Nordic country has adopted its own approach to government-to-government relations with China, all of them currently have productive MoU-guided working relationships with Beijing, including Sweden despite its ongoing row with the Chinese government about the case of Gui Minhai and other political differences.
  • As close allies or partners to the United States, the Nordic countries are likely to be drawn into the unfolding US–China great power struggle. The US government campaign against Huawei is acase in point, with several Nordicm inisters and intelligence agencies having echoed US concerns about thepotential security risks posed by u sing Huawei technology in their critical IT infrastructure. Washington’s critical stance towards China’s BRI and its presence in the Arctic region point in the same direction.
  • Meanwhile, with the EU having recently adopted a somewhat tougher stance vis-à-vis China, the Nordic EU member states should also expect tighter regulatory measures from Brussels in China-related questions such as inbound foreign direct investments.
  • Differences of political values – notably concerning human rights – also constitute a major challenge to Sino–Nordic relations insofar as such differences are being politicized. Moreover, public perceptions of China in the Nordic countries have been deteriorating, and Nordic media coverage of China’s growing international assertiveness and the hardening of its illiberal regime has been overwhelmingly negative. (to read more please go to the download link)