China's Belt and Road Initiative has been presented as a "win-win" opportunity, as countries involved would benefit from connectivity projects of mutual interest. As such, it should facilitate and improve the relationship between the European Union (EU) and China, long defined as a "strategic partnership". Instead, this article argues that the BRI—as an order-shaping exercise—has put the partnership under strain, enlarging the gap between a "win-win" rhetoric and the reality of frictions and contestations. By analysing the official discourse in EU documents, and comparing them with the dynamics that the BRI has been generating, especially in Central Europe and in the Western Balkans, the author comes to the conclusion that the EU–China relationship does not pass the test of a "strategic partnership", as defined in the literature. Thus, in order to reduce the possibility of increasing misunderstandings and growing suspicion, and to prevent a "lose-lose" final outcome—a common destiny that the international community should avoid—the way forward for the EU and China is to explore and discuss effectively what type of operational principles could sustain the partnership.