Stanley's blog

The seventh session of the Informal European Parliament Dialogue on China took place at the European Parliament on 13c April and was organised by the Brussels Institute of China Contemporary Studies (BICCS). The Dialogue was attended by some 60 MEPs, European and Chinese diplomats, think tank analysts, academics and others.

Elmar Brok MEP and Reinhard Bütikofer MEP co-chaired the meeting and made some introductory remarks, followed by Glyn Ford, former co-chair of the Dialogue. Flemming Christiansen, Professor of Chinese Studies, Leeds University, presented a paper. Wang Yiwei, Scholar-in-residence at the Mission of the PRC responded. There followed a Q & A session and discussion. Stanley Crossick, Senior Fellow, BICCS, offered some concluding remarks. The discussion was subject to The Chatham House Rule. This note is neither a record of proceedings nor is it comprehensive.

The strong attendance, both in quality and quantity, underlined the increased interest in China. The Dialogue was timely, with the nuclear disarmament conference taking place in Washington and Presidents Hu Jintao and Barack Obama meeting bilaterally.

The title was intended to be provocative, but in fact it simply provoked agreement that the term “responsible stakeholder”, coined in 2005 by the then US Deputy Secretary of State, Robert Zoellick, was inappropriate. The word ‘stakeholder’ does not translate effectively into Chinese. It is undiplomatic because of its negative implications. The tenour of the entire meeting was moderate, everyone seeking common ground.

Responsibility must be seen in a wide context – globally and not just through western eyes. Remember the three China’s: China’s China, Asia’s China and the world’s China. China can also ask whether the EU and US are responsible stakeholders, eg their non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and the contradictory attitudes towards Iran and North Korea, on the one hand, and India, Israel and Pakistan, on the other.

The subject needs to be put into perspective by assessing China’s international role from its domestic standpoint. China has delivered stability, growth, food and resource security and is tackling environmental pollution and the need for a social net. It is a responsible stakeholder in being self-reliant on food, limiting population growth and availing western consumers of cheaper goods.

There is a need for China to reform but this will take time. Global governance also needs reform. The bus needs repairing or replacing. The international financial system cannot continue to be based solely on the US dollar.

China has come a long way internationally, eg in peacekeeping, and patience is needed as China is not ready to go further in its international role. However, the recent assertiveness of Chinese leaders and officials gives a different perception.

In sum, China’s role must be looked at first, in its domestic context and second, in a global – not western only – context. Responsibility begins at home.

Finally, the attendance of several MEPs for the entire meeting was noteworthy. Concern was expressed at the need for MEPs to be better informed in order to understand the huge complexity of the issues. They can only spend a minute part of their time on China and need to benefit from the thinking and analysis of the European experts. BICCS is currently examining how best to communicate the necessary information to MEPs and is examining the possibility of a newsletter.

Building mutual understanding is critically important. We don’t know each other well enough, When decision-makers and opinion-formers meet, it is essential that each party tries to understand how the other sees the problem and in what context.

Most importantly, Europe needs a well thought through strategy towards China.

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