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European flags flying alongside Chinese flags in Tiananmen Square symbolised the success of the visit to Beijing of President Barrosso and nine Commissioners – the largest bevy of Commissioners ever to visit together a third country.

24-5 April was selected before the Tibet riots were on the horizon. Despite serious reservations about maintaining the visit, courage prevailed and proved justified. The official occasion was the formal opening and five hour meeting in the afternoon of 25 April of the “High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue Mechanism” but the most important meetings were the:

Discussions between leaders

President Barroso met Premier Wen Jiabao, both formally and over dinner. He also met President Hu Jintao. These discussions were dominated by the Tibet issue. There is huge Chinese resentment at the inaccurate reporting of the Tibet issue by European media, the European Parliament resolution and the disruption of the Olympic torch relays. And pronouncements of Member State leaders have not helped.

President Barroso, however, and the Commission have only made carefully measured statements and confirmed “that the EU is attached to the territorial integrity and unity of China and this naturally applies to Tibet.” Barroso has made clear on several occasions that he is opposed to any boycott: “that the Olympics must be a celebration for the youth of the world and that it must be a success. That is why I am against the boycott. I think that these Olympics must be celebrated in a peaceful atmosphere.”

This helped to create the friendly and constructive atmosphere for the various talks. The decision to resume formal talks with the Dalai Lama’s representatives (informal contact has never ceased) was made in China’s own interests, but it is possible that the timing of the announcement on 25 April was a gesture to the Commission.

Barroso explained to Premier Wen that “Europe believes that human rights are universal in nature and therefore our human rights policies do not target any one particular country.”

It is clear that many issues call for a joint PRC-EU response: climate change, sustainable development, macroeconomic imbalances, international security, financial turmoil, exchange rate fluctuations, energy prices, food prices, raw materials, development of Africa…

Climate change and sustainable development were high on the agenda.

A new strategic cooperation on science and research, based on reciprocity and equal partnership, is to be developed. Among areas of joint research already identified are energy, climate change, biotechnology and health.

The exchange of views on climate change was deep, particularly on the vital international negotiations. There was a joint meeting of climate change experts in the afternoon.

A Financing Agreement to set up a “Euro-China Clean Energy Centre” (EC2) in Beijing will be signed at the next EU-China Summit. A regular Dialogue on energy efficiency standards in construction was set up: cooperation on carbon capture and storage will continue.

Cooperation on product safety is to be deepened

An Action Plan to fight fraud and counterfeiting and to further customs cooperation and intellectual property rights enforcement, will be agreed before the next Summit.

Cooperation on social policy will continue following constructive exchanges.
The value of projects being developed under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) amounts to some €5 billions. A new €15 million EU-China Environmental Governance Programme will be launched at the next summit.

Dialogue on Africa is to be increased and concrete sectors and programmes will be identified so as to initiate a EU-China-Africa partnership in development cooperation. But then cooperation was agreed at the 2006 Helsinki Summit, without any progress since. Hopefully Louis Michel’s presence in Beijing will have given the idea a boost.

Once again, there was agreement on the need for more people-to-people exchanges, particularly among students and young professionals. Academic, scientific, social, cultural exchanges should help give a solid foundation to our bilateral relations. However, it is time that the leaders ‘put there money where their mouths are” and provide some serious funding.

It is hoped that the EU-China Law School in Beijing will open for the academic year 2008/2009.

High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue Mechanism

The Mechanism was chaired by Vice-Premier Wang Qishan and Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson. Seven additional Commissioners participated: Stavros Dimas (Environment), László Kovács (Taxation and Customs), Meglena Kuneva (Consumer Protection), Louis Michel (Development), Andris Piebalgs (Energy), Janez Poto?nik (Research) and Vladimír Špidla (Social Affairs).

The two other Commissioners, President Barroso and Benita Ferreo-Waldner (External Relations), did not attend the meeting, although Barroso and Premier Wen Jiabao formally inaugurated the mechanism in the morning. 10 Chinese ministers attended. This shows the breadth and depth of the European-PRC relationship. The new mechanism stresses sustainability and interdependence

Wen Jiabao originally proposed the Dialogue, which was agreed at the November 2007 Beijing Summit. Its object is to enable the parties to take a strategic look at economics and trade and hopefully anticipate problems, by examining the global trading system, strategic bilateral trade-related issues, investment, innovation, technology and IPR, and EU-China economic cooperation. The mechanism is intended to be complementary to, and reinforce the existing EU-China dialogues

The meeting agreed the working methodology through a “master work plan” and a timetable for reviewing the work. Views were exchanged on balanced economic development, trade and investment cooperation, innovation and technology transfer. There followed in-depth discussions on energy (including the removal of investment caps for EU investors in the Chinese energy sector, fostering more use of clean technologies through better standards, technology transfer and addressing local content requirements and approval procedures for European goods and projects.), trade in high technology (including a working group to look into barriers to high tech trade and the need to improve intellectual property protection), trade facilitation including concrete steps to improve import and export procedures and increase supply chain security) and protection of intellectual property rights (including the agreement to adopt an Action Plan at the next EU-China summit enhancing custom cooperation on seizures of counterfeit goods and concrete measures to reduce counterfeit sales.)

The importance of effective coordination of global development issues, especially in Africa, was agreed, a priority being to improve infrastructure and governance.

Mandelson called it a “productive and interesting” meeting with a “focused and disciplined discussion of a series of issues of crucial importance.” It is obviously hoped by the Europeans that the current, unsustainable imbalance in EU-China trade will be alleviated. “The global economic environment is uncertain, and uncertainty strengthens the political temptation of protectionism.” Market access for goods and services will be high on the agenda.

The Trade Commissioner confirmed that the need for EU and China jointly to address the environmental and social challenges associated with globalisation, was agreed. Coordinating procedures and requirements to enhance product safety were discussed.

A substantial amount of time was spent discussing how to improve IPR protection for the benefit of consumers and companies in the EU and China. “Better customs cooperation is key here, as is proper licensing of 3European technology, trademark protection and the prevention of online piracy of music and films.”

Mandelson concluded that “…environmental sustainability is going to be harder going. Creating greater social equality is going to be more challenging. Broadening public participation in China’s government is pressing.”

The mechanism will continue to address tackle these and other issues, including market access, transport, regulatory issues and standards. It is a continuous process that is intended to enhance ministerial level cooperation and provide a forum for resolving frictions. Periodic high level meetings will take stock of the process and steer it.

Numerous other meetings

There were extensive bilateral meetings between Commissioners and their counterparts, conferences and other events around the visit, bearing in mind that the Brussels Commission Delegation must have numbered in excess of 50.

Commissioners have had an extensive number of bilateral meetings with their respective counterparts

President Barroso launched on 25 April an exhibition on climate change at the headquarters of the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and the China-EU Association.

We also expressed the wish that the EU-China Law School in Beijing will open for the academic year 2008/2009. I would like to inaugurate myself this important joint undertaking.


Both the Europeans and the Chinese were very happy with the visit. The atmosphere was friendly and constructive. José Manuel Barroso and his nine colleagues are entitled to be very happy with the outcome of what could well have been a series of very difficult meetings. Needless to say, a great deal of work was put in by the supporting teams to try to ensure this success.

However, the only way the High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue Mechanism will demonstrate real progress is by delivering regular and tangible result. It must be strategic in approach and methodology and not deteriorate into just another dialogue.

Initial reactions confirm the justification for the highest and biggest Commission team ever to have visited a third country. But, the nature of the follow up will determine whether the visit is a lasting success. As Peter Mandelson said, “We have a lot of work ahead of us. Today we have tasked ourselves with the job of moving forward. The EU-China Summit later this year will judge us by results, before we continue further along the road. Now we must all get on with the work.”

This post forms the substance of an ‘Asia paper’ shortly to be published by the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies on its website

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