October 13, 2009
This is a revised version of the paper delivered to the FUDAN CES/IFRI/SIES/CSEUS roundtable in Shanghai on 24 September 2009. It has been revised in the light of discussions at the roundtable and in Beijing with senior Chinese government officials, EU officials, business representatives, journalists and scholars. It is inevitably based on western perceptions but is not intended to be judgemental. Any suggestions are offered in the desire to see a successful China and a strong China-EU relationship.
My visit to Beijing coincided with the 60th anniversary celebrations of the founding of the People’s Republic of China – an interesting and meaningful experience. The 1 October parade was phenomenal, both in its content and organisation, rivalling the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. My blog posted on 4 October is annexed.
Although the atmosphere at recent official China-European meetings has been good, both sides are questioning the practical results which are being achieved. There is Chinese disillusionment as to what the EU can deliver and European disillusionment as to what China is willing to deliver. Indeed, there are serious European concerns as to whether Beijing now regards the relationship as marginal, looking primarily to the US.
There are conflicting views as to how the Chinese leadership sees the relationship. The academic community seems to believe in its importance and it looks doubtful that Beijing would want to put all its eggs in the American basket: the EU is a moderating influence.
My latest round of discussions in Beijing encourages me to be more optimistic. The financial and economic crisis has been a distraction. Chinese leaders still find it difficult to manage relations with the EU alongside relations with competing Member States, whereas relations with the US are much less complicated. And the Union is currently in an interregnum. The Chinese remain enthusiastic, however, about the single market and the euro (and appear impressed as to how it as coped with the recent turmoil) and about the EU model of regional development and other successes. Europe has a leadership role in fighting climate change. China is not seduced by the idea of a ‘G2’ ie a special relationship between the United States and China, proposed in the US.
It is now commonplace to refer to the China-Europe ‘strategic partnership’. But is it really a partnership? And what is strategic about it?
We need to be realistic. The present Sino-European relationship is neither strategic nor a partnership, and signing a ‘Partnership & Cooperation Agreement’ will not change this. A strategic partnership requires a long-term commitment to establish a close relationship across a significant number of policy areas. Despite any differences between them, the partners must recognise the importance of their commitment to each other and be prepared to try to reach common ground wherever possible. Premier Wen Jiabao stated that:
“’Strategic’ means” the cooperation should be long-term and stable, bearing on the larger picture of China-EU relations. It transcends the differences in ideology and social system and is not subjected to the impacts of individual events that occur from time to time. By ‘partnership’, it means that the cooperation should be equal-footed, mutually beneficial and win-win. The two sides should base themselves on mutual respect and mutual trust, endeavour to expand converging interests and seek common ground on the major issues while shelving differences on the minor ones.”
Both parties have downgraded the use of the term “strategic”. China has some 34 strategic partnerships, while the EU has 5.
The relationship must be built on more than economic grounds. And the focus should be on the relationship we wish to have in 15-20 years’ time, not only that of today and tomorrow. The need for high level, strategic engagement is paramount.
It would be less than honest it were not admitted that the relationship is going through a difficult and dangerous period.
This paper first, takes a look at trade tensions and the issue of market economy status, and possible cooperation in Africa; then suggests a new approach to the China-EU relationship; briefly pinpoints some necessary short term solutions, and then US dimension, and offers some concluding remarks.
Europeans feel that there is insufficient trade reciprocity – that the legal and administrative restrictions on European companies trading and investing in China are far greater than those Chinese companies face in Europe.
This feeling is confirmed by the European Union Chamber of Commerce’s “European Business in China Position Paper 2009/2010” which was published on 2 September. European businesses have observed a slowdown in the pace of reforms over the past 12 months, with some sectors reporting that the situation has actually worsened as industrial policy interventions and foreign investment restrictions have increased.
However, this does not mean that the EU will adjust its trade policies, because protectionism is against the interests of Europe, being the world’s largest trading block. However, in the light of the ongoing global economic recession, there is a risk that political leaders will succumb to calls for protectionism by their electorates. The biggest risk for China comes from the US, in the light of the industrial lobby and the fact that Democrat sentiments are more protectionist than those of the Republican party.
This can be seen, for example, in the “Buy American” provisions of the $787bn stimulus package. Even more worrying is the US House of Representatives’ amendment to a $33bn spending bill stipulating that “none of the funds made available in this act may be used to purchase passenger motor vehicles other than those manufactured by Ford, GM or Chrysler”. The amendment may well be outvoted or altered, but it shows where the sentiment is going. The perception is that China has followed suit with its joint statement dated 26 May 2009(but posted on 4 June) by nine ministries and government agencies, led by the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) :
“Government investment projects should purchase domestic products, unless these domestic goods, construction engineering or services are not available in China or cannot be acquired on reasonable commercial terms. Projects requiring imported products will need prior approval from relevant government authorities.”
Lack of transparency and an explanation fuelled foreign suspicion that the measures are protectionist. However, The Government Procurement Law of the People’s Republic of China has been in place since 2002. Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice Premier Wang Qishan had earlier this year stated that the stimulus packages should be open to all economic operators.
The extent to which foreign companies lose out in government procurement contracts will, as always, depend upon what happens in practice.
It is believed in the US that the recent WTO Panel ruling on publications and audiovisual products will help open up the Chinese market for everything from magazines, CDs and DVDs, music downloads and books, to film blockbusters, as well as curbing intellectual piracy. It could also set a precedent for others, such as automakers claiming to be hampered by cumbersome Chinese distribution rules. China has appealed against the ruling.
Washington and Brussels feel that China’s restrictive treatment of outside suppliers of financial information services places western suppliers at a serious competitive disadvantage. The decision to allow foreign companies to list in China is therefore a welcome development.
China faces a global trade threat, beginning with the operation of the American “China safeguard” law. A number of countries are resorting to using WTO rules to restrict imports from China. US industry is also demanding new import restrictions. The EU apart, Argentina, Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey are also imposing new import restrictions on China. The unilateral imposition of safeguard measures can have a cumulative effect. If one country imposes a safeguard on Chinese imports, all other WTO members can automatically follow suit.
Such actions take years and are sometimes inconclusive, but have an influence over the longer term. This needs close analysis by Beijing.
The US has now imposed a tariff on China-made tyres of 35% the first year, 30% the second year and 25% the third year. The International Trade Commission had recommended a three year levy of 55%. This is a victory for the complainant, the United Steelworkers union, over tyre importers and some US tyre manufacturers with plants overseas. However, it does not follow that overall imports will be less as there are other cheaper sources.
There will always be trade disputes between China and the EU, and the more the trade, the more the disputes. It is essential to keep these inevitable disputes insulated from the political relationship as the EU and US do. This having been said, there may be a spill-over if the trade deficit is not reduced, and this can only be done by increased access to the Chinese market.
Market Economy Status (MES)
The EU, and western companies working in China, insist that there is far from a level playing field in goods and worse still in services. The obstacles are legal, bureaucratic and practical. Early progress on granting MES is not anticipated. Beijing, however, considers the EU policy to be very unfair. MES will automatically be granted in 2015-16 under WTO rules. The EU requires four conditions to be fulfilled:
• State influence: Ensuring equal treatment of all companies by reducing State interference, which takes place either on an ad hoc basis or as a result of industrial policies, as well as through export and pricing restrictions on raw materials.
• Corporate governance: Increasing the level of compliance with existing accounting law in order to ensure in general the usability of accounting information for the purpose of trade defence investigations.
• Property and bankruptcy law: Ensuring equal treatment of all companies in bankruptcy procedures and in respect of property and intellectual property rights.
• Financial sector: Bringing the banking sector under market rules by removing discriminatory barriers, in order to ensure rational allocation of capital by financial institutions.
Comments from a European perspective are:
• State influence: still prevents equal treatment, particularly with the strength of state-owned corporations.
• Corporate governance: not a serious obstacle.
• Property and bankruptcy law: not a serious obstacle, except in respect of intellectual property rights, although this is mainly a problem of enforcement.
• Financial sector: not a serious obstacle.
The big advantage to China of the reclassification would be to curb the increasing number of anti-dumping actions. Although anti-dumping policy is controversial in the EU, the granting of MES is regarded as one of the few cards the Union has to play in trade negotiations.
The obvious quid pro quo is China making bankable market access concessions. A problem is that, whereas once MES is granted, the benefits accrue immediately, market access concessions may be agreed by Beijing but not implemented and enforced at local level. The MES card is of diminishing value. Greater efforts should be made to negotiate a package, perhaps based on market access for services and intellectual property (IP) protection. Both are also in China’s interests. The non-enforcement of IP is an ongoing problem for European companies. China needs European technology but companies are hesitant to provide it as they run the risk of their IP being improperly exploited.
However, as Peter Mandelson said recently in Beijing, talks on MES were stalled for political reasons and “should not be held back politically by prejudice or special trade interests in Europe”. On the other hand, Mandelson also complained about there being insufficient access to the Chinese market.
China has maintained good relations with African countries for a long time and has been building its presence from the 1990s. An active African policy brings three major benefits to China: access to energy and natural resources, an export market, and many votes at the UN and on other international bodies.
The non-conditionality of Chinese policies has been severely criticised in the West. The infrastructure policy has been welcomed, but not the failure to use more African labour. Initially, China was very well received by the Africans, but there is growing criticism that China is obtaining resources at unfairly low prices, that the benefits accrue to the elite rather than trickling down to the ordinary people, and that Chinese companies frequently badly treat African employees.
Bejing’s international reputation has been harmed as result of its policies towards Darfur, Zimbabwe and the wielding of its UNSC veto, opposing the imposition of sanctions against Zimbabwe and Sudan, although the usefulness of its go-between role in Sudan is acknowledged. China strongly adheres to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. This policy is controversial in its application. Advice to friends is not interference but could imply pressure. Does China interfere therefore in Myanmar’s internal affairs?
Both China and Europe wish to see a peaceful, stable and well-governed Africa. China’s long term policies in Africa must, in order to survive, have regard to African interests (eg environment, corporate social responsibility). Chinese have been the victims of violence in more than one African country as (well as in the South Pacific). There has been a large rise in Chinese immigrants and overseas workers that has not always proved popular. As the attacks on Chinese citizens and property increase, Beijing is likely to face domestic pressure to act, but this could bring into question the principle of non-intervention.
The resentment towards Chinese immigrant communities is exacerbated by the host countries suffering from vastly increased Chinese exports and the resultant damage to local industry.
The China-EU Joint Statement following the 2007 summit, stated (para 10) that:
“Leaders welcomed more practical cooperation by the two sides through their respective existing cooperation mechanisms with Africa, such as the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation and the EU-Africa Summit, so as to contribute to Africa’s peace, stability and sustainable development on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. The two sides agreed to continue their dialogue on African issues, and actively explore effective ways and channels of cooperation among China, the EU and Africa in appropriate areas. The EU invited China to attend the EU-Africa Summit as an observer. China invited the EU Commissioner for Development to visit China.”
Despite this, cooperation has been poor. Only three small development projects in Burundi, Mauritania and Rwanda, have resulted from the dialogues between Chinese Embassies and European Delegations in Africa. The prospects are not encouraging. The joint press statement following the eleventh EU-China Summit in Prague, in May 2009 did not mention Africa.
The impression in Europe is that Beijing is unenthusiastic, either because it might upset African countries or a disunited Europe does not have much to offer, or competition with the US and India is more relevant.
The EU does worry about China’s role in Africa. Its biggest concerns are China supplying unsavoury régimes (eg Zimbabwe) with military equipment and the lack of interest shown by China in strengthening governance.
It is hard not to be pessimistic about Africa’s future. Its population is growing but it produces less food per head than at any time since independence. African countries may not be able to find a way through to the necessary industrialisation, unemployment and increased productivity leading to prosperity. Finally, political violence, corruption and weak governance are all obstacles to overcome.
Given the mammoth task, it is in the interests of both China and the EU actively to cooperate, as envisaged at the 2007 summit. The combined resource and experience could be put to valued use. The proposal for a trilateral dialogue and cooperation is worth consideration. A trilateral forum (African, China and EU) should be set up, wiyjthe New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) the lead interlocutor, but NEPAD’s organisation and resource needs first to be strengthened.
New approach to the China-EU relationship
The present relationship is deficient in the way it is seen and is operated. It is essentially in the hands of the officials, with occasional, brief appearances by their political masters. I have never been in favour of the relationship being governed by a standard Partnership & Cooperation Agreement (PCA). An agreement individually designed to further the interests of the parties was and still is required.
Thus, a short ‘Strategic Partnership Agreement’ was what was needed. The 2003 Summit first talked about a strategic partnership. At the 2006 Summit, the leaders “instructed their respective services to expedite preparatory work with a view to concluding at an early date an agreement that will reflect the full breadth and depth of the strategic partnership between China and the EU.”
Despite the lapse of time, we are still far from agreement on its terms. Relations were in 2003 at a high point and the environment for negotiations far more favourable. Vision and long term strategic interests are significantly absent from the present negotiations. The relationship is dynamic and will take many years to evolve in the right direction. The first stage is to build mutual trust. Mutual trust comes from working together. Mutual understanding facilitates working together.
Two fundamental changes are needed, one in approach and one in methodology.
Issues endorsed as priorities in official China-EU joint statements are specifically: the global economic and financial crisis, climate change, energy security, a Doha Development Round agreement, UN reform, Africa, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea and Myanmar. Trade is a permanent priority and the most important strategic interest in common. Both parties seek global peace, stability and development. This involves coping with non-traditional security threats and nuclear proliferation. Both seek a multilateral non-hegemonic world.
All these issues must be seen as common issues requiring common solutions. The parties should not be sitting on opposites sides of the table, facing each other. They should be sitting on the same side with the problem in the middle. This was the ‘Monnet approach’ that made the original communities feasible to establish. There needs to be a change of mindset on both sides.
First, in each case the common interest must be defined and the problems in achieving these common interests identified. Then, an effective mechanism must be set up to find a common solution to the common problem.
There has only been serious bilateral cooperation over climate change, which has the potential to become the subject of close collaboration: there is clearly a convergence of interests. But there are currently disagreements over the extent to which international emissions rules should be mandatory, their speed of implementation and who pays.
The relationship has, of course, to be seen in a global context, and in particular have regard to each party’s relations with the US. But the partnership must be developed intrinsically and not with reference to the US.
The EU has so far been unable to get its act together, with Member State leaders unwilling to swallow their egos and work together in their common interest. This means that the EU is less than the sum total of its constituent parts and lacks credibility as an international actor.
Until such time as Europe can speak with a single – not necessarily common – voice, the EU will not have serious influence with China, notwithstanding that the attitudes of both are closer together on a number of issues, than either’s with the United States. Hopefully, the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, which now looks likely, will give the EU a boost of confidence, and its new leadership triumvirate of European Council president, ‘foreign minister’ and Commission president, will make achieving a single voice a priority.
Both China and the EU seek long term peace, stability, security, prosperity and sustainable development – in their own countries, regions and globally. Jean Monnet, the Union’s leading Founding Father, closed his Memoirs by writing:
“Have I said clearly enough that the Community we have created is not an end in itself?…[It]is only a stage on the way to the organized world of tomorrow?”
China and Europe have a common interest in long-term stability in the volatile area of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. China has a strong traditional relationship with Pakistan and a mutually suspicious one with India. It has strong commercial relations with Iran. This area is a political cauldron, as both parties well know. So, China is being prevented from exploiting the 28 sq km Aynak copper field, which is said to hold the world’s largest unexploited deposits of copper. Aynak is in the war-torn Taliban region of Afghanistan, and most of the Chinese personnel have been withdrawn due to threats from the Taliban. Closer EU-China cooperation within an international context seems natural.
The two sides restated at the May summit in Prague their firm commitment to pursuing the EU-China comprehensive strategic partnership and their willingness to work together for their mutual development, in a “forward-looking manner based on the principles of mutual respect, equality, mutual trust, reciprocity and win-win cooperation.”
Issues endorsed as priorities in official China-EU joint statements are specifically: the global economic and financial crisis, climate change, energy security, a Doha Development Round agreement, UN reform, Africa, Iran, Afghanistan, North Korea and Myanmar. To these can be added poverty eradication, terrorism, pandemics, the avoidance of protectionism and nuclear proliferation. Pakistan and Iraq are, of course, linked to the priorities of ran and Afghanistan.
The influence of Confucius and Monnet on China and Europe is fundamental. Despite their living in very different worlds at very different times, the two men shared some commonality of thought. They both believed in ‘mutuality’: Confucius within a hierarchical society where people, though different in their positions and roles, share equal responsibility in maintaining peace and harmony; Monnet extended the concept of ‘mutuality’ to building institutions guaranteeing solidarity and peace – which is only achievable through equality. Equality was central to Monnet’s thinking and remains the key to better international relations.
What are the obstacles to finding common solutions? These are cultural, in the broadest sense, and inevitably also self-interest.
Most of the issues identified above are the subject of bilateral dialogues and other kinds of exchange. There are currently over 30 China-EU dialogues and working groups. However, there is absent a higher and more visionary motivation, a satisfactory methodology and effective coordination.
There is considerable interaction between different policies in today’s fast-changing society. The distinction between internal and external policies is blurred and regard must always be had to the global context. No major challenge can be solved by any one country acting alone: we live in an interdependent world and can only survive together. Unfortunately human nature dictates that when we most need each other, we cooperate less: China and Europe should set an example.
The current methodology of cooperation must be revised. The nature of dialogues and joint working groups needs to be changed. At present, meetings tend to involve each party reporting on what has happened since the last meeting. There is very little real exchange of views.
Instead, dialogues should be ongoing vehicles in which the Chinese and Europeans work together on a continuing basis with full transparency, seeking common solutions to common problems. This requires a change in the current mindset. And bilateral issues must be looked at within a multilateral context
The current relationship suffers from lack of trust and mutual understanding: misperceptions abound , and these are exploited by those who seek to weaken the relationship. Examples of common misperceptions are that China is a Communist dictatorship (rather than a social market-oriented economy managed by a Communist Party autocracy), and Europe has a coordinated strategy towards Tibet. Our different histories, cultures, politics and decision-making aggravate these factors. Chinese and European cultures have more in common than is readily obvious: both are secular, rational, non-traditional and emphasise subjective well-being and the quality of life.
Negotiations and serious exchanges of views first require each party to understand how the other sees the problem and in what context. Insufficient attention is frequently given to this essential exercise.
As has already been said, trust comes from working together. Mutual understanding helps working together. Premier Wen Jiabao and President Barroso should set up a ‘Committee of Mutual Understanding’, involving government and all the stakeholders in society.
Widespread exchanges between Europeans and Chinese need to be promoted and financed. Europeans in general understand the Chinese less than the Chinese understand Europe, and an insufficient number of them speak Chinese.
EU and Chinese leaders regularly emphasise the important role of think tanks and academic institutions: it’s time they supported their words by money.
Habit of cooperation
The ‘habit of cooperation’ through over thirty sectoral and other dialogues should not, however, be overlooked. There are hundreds of EU-China meetings every year as well as bilateral meetings between China and the EU Member States, although lack of coordination decreases their effectiveness. There are no less than six separate EU and national dialogues with China on climate change.
Hu Jintao has identified all the problems and remedies. Eight major social conflicts have been identified that continue to worsen with time. These conflicts are: 1) between the central committee and the local CCP and government; 2) between the authority of the local CCP and government and that of the ministries and commissions; 3) between urban and rural development; 4) between the interests of the local area and that of the local CCP and government; 5) between the interests for the local CCP, government and state departments and that of the people; 6) between the people with urban household registration and the floating population; 7) between the interests of state-owned enterprise and that of private enterprise; and 8) between higher social classes and the workers and peasant class.
The International Strategic Research Centre of the CCP Central Party School recently published a research paper discussing five major serious social problems the Party now faces. The so-called five ‘cancers’ are: 1) the conflict between efficiency and fairness; 2) the disproportionate development in different geographic areas: 3) the conflict between economic development and environmental protection; 4), the conflict between the economy and available resources; and 5) the lack of social integrity and credibility.
The paper indicated the Reform between 1979 and 1993 was a ‘win-win’ for all groups in society, while the one since 1994 has not been. A portion of society has been turned into ‘losers.’ With the five ‘cancers,’ society may enter an era of turbulence and setbacks.
This paper now addresses communication, human rights/press freedom, democratisation and minorities.
China’s image among non-expert Europeans and in the media is poor. This needs to be rectified but requires a long, intensive exercise and a fundamental change in cultural attitudes in China. The complaints of European media bias are justified, but China is not the only sufferer. ‘Brussels’ is frequently pilloried by the press.
Three dimensions need to be addressed: lobbying, European Parliament and content and manner of communication.
There are active Taiwan, Tibet, human rights and Falun Gong lobbies: there is no China lobby. The media use these lobbies as information sources, which inevitably means an anti-Chinese slant.
The European Parliament has regularly criticised Chinese human rights shortcomings and the policy towards Tibet. The Dalai Lama is strongly supported. This attitude is due to a small number of active MEPs, supported by the relevant lobbies. There is no noticeable Chinese presence. This needs to be remedied.
Most important of all, China needs to explain its policies and positions in the right form at the right time to the right people. This requires a fundamentally different approach to communication. To be convincing, communications must be drafted in a way that is conducive to influencing Europeans. They must be timely, which requires speedy action in European countries without prior approval from Beijing.
Examples abound: The Dalai Lama’s position on “autonomy” was explained in a document published in October 2008 . This shows that autonomy is sought, not just over the Tibet Autonomous Region, but over the Tibetan community spread across nearly 40% of China. This is clearly unacceptable but most Europeans are not aware of it.
China’s unfortunate experience at the Frankfurt Book Fair in September 2009 and the reasonable position the Chinese delegation took was not explained, as result of which, the events were misreported in the media.
The State Council’s White Paper on the country’s ethnic policy was published in its entirety in English in China Daily of 28 September 2009, taking up four full broadsheet pages, without any summary or explanation. Such a document is very unlikely to be widely read.
Human rights/press freedom
European criticism of human rights in China is an ongoing bone of contention. There are genuine concerns within European governments, which are also subjected to pressure from parliamentarians and special interest groups.
The very concept of human rights differs. First, the European focus is on individual rights whereas in China the focus is on group rights. Second, economic, rather than political rights are paramount in China. The right to subsist is clearly the prime human right. This having been said, the constitutional and legislative provisions are not dissimilar to their Western equivalents. The differences arise in their implementation – both method and speed.
There has clearly been substantial progress in recent years. Beijing accepts that there are still many human rights problems to be solved and that officials frequently do not respect and protect human rights. On the other hand, there is resentment in China towards strong criticism from developed countries with by no means perfect human rights records. Beijing knows that excessive conduct by Chinese police and officials is not in China’s own interests and does not need to be told this by megaphone.
Particular attention needs to be paid to freedom of the press. I would not wish on China the excesses of a western-style press, but the press can play a valuable role in exposing corruption and non-enforcement of laws, in particular in the consumer/food safety and environmental protection policy areas. In so doing, they would usually be supporting Beijing’s policies. Domestically, corruption and non-implementation and non–enforcement of laws at provincial and local levels are major challenges for Beijing. Greater freedom of the media would help the central government. It should therefore consider running the risks of misreporting in the light of the benefits which result.
The Chinese media can play a constructive role. Risks are involved, but so are there risks from the non-transparency frequently imposed over consumer and environmental disasters. Nothing is risk-free and a policy of ‘zero tolerance for risk’ is itself a risk.
The Chinese leadership can devise a system permitting the reporting of these incidents but severely punishing inaccurate reporting. There seems to be an increasing public resistance to these health incidents and public confidence is more likely to be gained by the Government and Party acting transparently, rather than by concealment.
There appears to be an increased acceptance within the Communist Party (CCP) that a degree of ‘vertical democracy’ is needed, ie within the Party itself. Cai Xia, a professor at the CPC’s Central Committee Party School, said:
“To a great extent, the progress of China’ political reform rests with the development of CPC’s intra-Party democratic reform, which is essential to optimize Party organization.”
“It is imperative the Party reform its highly centralized organization into a democratic; institutionalized system to catch up with profound social change.”
Hu Jintao mentioned “democracy” over 60 times in his report to the 17th National Congress on 15 October 2007. He said at the Congress:
“We will expand intra-Party democracy to develop people’s democracy and increase intra-Party harmony to promote social harmony.”
President Hu had in mind ensuring democracy at CPC congresses, and in the election, supervision, evaluation and promotion of officials.
Satisfying the preservation of the unity of a country and the aspirations of its minorities is always difficult: it is especially difficult for China, having regard to its size and history. The troubles in Tibet and Xinjiang are, of course, a challenge to the creation of a harmonious society.
The State Council’s recent White Paper concludes that:
“Sixty years of experiences have proved that China’s ethnic policies are correct and effective, and are in keeping with China’s actual conditions and the common interests of all ethnic group, winning the support of the people of all ethnic groups.”
This conclusion is hardly borne out by the past and recent unrest among Tibetans and Uighurs. The White Paper is silent on this.
The wording of the Constitution appears to give ample protection to minority groups, but there is an impression that day-to-day practice is at variant with the law. Beijing should consider carrying out an in-depth and objective assessment of the implementation of its policies towards minorities, concluding with a set of realistic recommendations.
The report might address all five autonomous regions, addressing questions including:
• Is the conduct of local leaders always consistent with the Constitution and Beijing’s policy?
• To what extent is local corruption and abuse of power a cause of discontent?
• Is strict control over expressions of dissent advisable? Is it better to risk biased reporting but have a safety valve which could prevent the explosion of tensions?
• Is the government’s strict control over the traditional media advisable? Chinese netizens do not appear to trust the traditional media and are therefore more likely to believe electronic reports despite their possible unreliability. Provocative rumours are easily and quickly spread.
• Is there sufficient freedom of language in practice?
• Is there sufficient freedom of religion in practice?
• Is there sufficient freedom of culture in practice?
• Is the government policy of encouraging migration from poorer western regions to richer eastern provinces, so as to provide jobs and close the income gap, advisable, having regard to the huge linguistic, geographic cultural and religious gulf between the newcomers and the local people?
• Is the large influx Han Chinese into these regions beneficial in the long run?
Needless to say, with the effects on the Chinese economy of the global recession, economic hardship increases the risk of discontent.
The impact of the internet and text messaging needs to be taken urgently into account. The recent rioting in Urumqi seems to have been sparked off 4 000 kms away in a toy factory in Guangdong province, where Han Chinese attacked Uighur workers after rumours that they had raped several women. The Xinjiang violence dominates domestic news because the Chinese authorities are forced to report events pro-actively to pre-empt the spread of rumours.
China officially consists of a majority nationality, the Han, and 55 minority groups, numbering over 104 million, or some 9% of the total population.
There are several affirmative action programmes for officially recognised minority groups. Through these, they are entitled to have more children (minorities are generally not bound by the one child policy except in urban areas), pay less taxes, obtain better education for their children (but in Mandarin Chinese), have greater access to public office, speak and learn their native languages, worship and practice their religion, and express their cultural differences. The assessment might examine the effectiveness of these programmes.
Unlike Tibet, Xinjiang has not been in the focus of the international media, although the demonisation of Rebiya Kadeer is changing this. In fact, the potential danger is greater than that of Tibet. The province comprises a vast area of over 1.6 million sq kms which borders Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Pakistan, as well as India, Mongolia and Russia. It is rich in oil, gas and coal and is potentially exposed to external, extremist influences.
A principal aim – not only in China – is to persuade peoples to live together, rather than be separated by borders, and to respect each other’s rights. Globalisation does not seem to have had this beneficial effect.
Short term solutions
The thoughts so far have been mainly within a long term perspective. But we must in the short term:
• make work the Economic & Trade Dialogue, Macro-economic & Financial Services Dialogue and Central Bank Dialogue;
• conclude the PCA;
• conclude an update of the 1985 Trade Agreement; and
• work together to improve external communications to each other.
While a G3 (China, EU and US) is as unlikely to be formed as a G2 (China and US), the US dimension cannot be ignored when considering the China-EU relationship. There needs to be more trilateral cooperation because many of the problems are common ones; competition between the EU and US vis-à-vis China should be avoided; any Chinese ‘divide and rule’ tendencies should be prevented; and the EU would help to bridge the gap between Chinese and American approaches to policy formation.
Some personal concerns
There have been numerous reports from China which indicate political and security tightening of controls over people, including lawyers, NGOs and journalists. Random examples are the charging of Tan Zuorenh for subverting state power; and the prevention by the police of Ai Weiwei, the artist who designed the Bird’s Nest, giving evidence at his trial; the indefinite detention of prominent legal scholar Xu Zhiyong; the non-renewal of the licences of 53 human rights lawyers; the raiding or shutting down of advocacy groups providing legal aid and advice; the detention and indictment of rights activists; the order that the Green Dam Youth Escort, a content-control software, must be installed on all new computers from July 1 (a deadline that has subsequently been postponed); the blocking of Twitter & Hotmail; the attempt to stop Rebiya Kadeer addressing the Australian National Press Club; and the withdrawal of Chinese films from the Melbourne Film Festival.
The need for strict security ahead of the 60th anniversary celebration is well understood. The fundamental and worrying question is whether the present institutional structures and culture can cope with current social concerns and problems. The ongoing protests and violence in Xinjiang are particularly disturbing as there is a risk of internal interference. A high-ranking al Qaeda leader has called on China’s minority Uyghurs to prepare for a holy war against the Chinese government:
“There is no way for salvation and to lift this oppression and tyranny unless you … seriously prepare for jihad in the name of God and carry your weapons against the ruthless brutal invader thugs,”
Abu Yahia Al-Libi said on in a video posted on 7 October on an Islamist Web site .
There is sometimes an apparent lack of sensitivity of local officials in dealing with ethnic minorities. The integration policy does not appear to be working satisfactorily and needs to be reviewed. The traditional approach of blanket security, information blackout and patriotic propaganda may no longer work. The restrictions and censorship of the traditional and e-media may be counter-productive. More and more citizens use the internet for information. The suspension of internet services may cause negative reactions. Internet is also an important security valve, allowing people to vent their frustration.
Finally, whatever the feelings of Beijing over problems such as the Frankfurt Book Fair, it may well be preferable not to make a public issue of it. This only attracts negative media coverage, which damages China’s image in Europe.
Ambassador Song Zhe closed his speech delivered to the College of Bruges on 26 March 2009 by saying that:
“We are witnessing profound changes in the world’s political, economic and security situations. Under current circumstances, China and Europe share more interest in common and enjoy broader prospect for expanding and deepening cooperation. We need to further our comprehensive and strategic partnership, not only for our own interests, but also for the world’s peace and prosperity.
We Chinese often say, crisis breeds opportunities. China-EU relationship has come to a new starting point. Now is the time to seize the opportunity and push our relationship to a historical new height.”
The Ambassador explained the importance of two Chinese characters which underpin Chinese political and social thinking and thus government domestic and foreign policy: he – peace & harmony and bian – change & reform.
China, he said, seeks equality among nations and solutions through dialogue and peaceful negotiation, rather than confrontation or force. He sees Europe having three important elements:
“political cooperation towards common strength, economic partnership for mutual benefit, and cultural diversity with inclusive assimilation.”
Song Zhe identifies in this a strong similarity with EU-China relations. He also supports the Jean Monnet approach of seeking common solutions to common problems.
These remarks are encouraging and but need to be converted by both China and the EU into reality. Thus:
• We share several shared strategic interests.
• The interests we have in common are far greater than our divisions.
• We share concerns over equity & social solidarity.
• We both seek solutions through dialogue and peaceful negotiations, rather than confrontation or force.
• There is no fundamental conflict of interest between us.
• The need for high level, strategic engagement is paramount.
• The official strategic dialogue needs to be supported by the think tank and academic community.
• A ‘Committee of Mutual Understanding’, involving government and all the stakeholders in society should be established.
• Two key areas for close cooperation are climate change and Africa.
China and Europe are both seeking unity in diversity. The concept of e pluribus unum (out of many, one) has been with us for two millennia. We all wish to love in harmony and peaceful coexistence.
And, we must never forget: we are all in the same boat.
Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies