October 24, 2009
The following are my concluding remarks at the 6th China-EU Think Tank Roundtable (CIIS-EPC) held in Changzhou, PRC on 21-22 October 2009:
We have had a rich and fruitful discussion facilitated by excellent time discipline.
Underpinning all discussions was the search for mutual understanding and the elimination of misperceptions. We do not sufficiently trust each other. Trust comes from working together and mutual understanding facilitates working together.
The Chinese criticise European strategies, policies and lecturing tone. They flatter us with their belief that there are European strategies on Tibet, the Dali Llama etc. In criticising us, they too must avoid lecturing and, at the same time, remember the concepts of mutuality and reciprocity.
The EU is going through an interregnum. It is a multi-headed animal, difficult to deal with and torn by rivalry between Member States and the Union and competition between Member States. But then, dealing with several Chinese ministries on one inter-disciplinary subject can also be very difficult. We hope that the coming into force of the Lisbon Treaty will be a considerable help, but it depends on who is chosen as the first Foreign Policy Chief and Permanent President of the European Council.
The world is becoming more confused than ever. Reform of the global institutions is essential: China, India, Brazil South Africa etc must be given their representative rights. Europe will have to reduce its over-representation. When will our egotistical leaders understand that a single seat on, say, the United Nations Security Council will increase the combined influence and standing of Europe?
Europe is stable – thanks to the EU, although there is some tension over Russia. Nearly 100 years ago, one death in Sarajevo led to millions of European deaths. A decade ago, several hundred deaths in Sarajevo did not for one moment threaten Europe’s overall stability.
China, however, has a worrying neighbourhood weak political regimes and the risk of extremist forces or terrorists seizing power. There is a danger of the externalisation of the Uighur conflict. Relations with India are strained, with a long unresolved border dispute and the two countries competing for resources and influence. There is deep mutual suspicion between China and Russia and growing rivalry. Relations with Japan have improved, but without true reconciliation, troubles can always flare up.
The deepest concern remains Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, which are inevitably linked.
Relations with Asia have shot up the EU agenda following the financial and economic crisis. The desire for joint action is recognised. ASEM must be taken more seriously. Europeans must try to learn about and understand Asia better. Europe has no geopolitical conflicts in the region.
Economics and trade underpin the Sino-European relationship. There is a need to keep trade open, avoiding Buy American or Buy Chinese legislation. China needs to give greater market access,
especially in services. Regional blocs are to be encouraged provide that they contribute to multilateral trading. Any Asian community needs to extend beyond free trade, but this would require pooled sovereignty.
Africa is high on the agenda. The leaders committed China and the EU to collaborate in Africa at the 2007 Summit but this has not been implemented and there is little cooperation. We have very different policy approaches, the Chinese essentially economic but the European also political. The West has wasted a lot of aid to Africa and China is right to concentrate on infrastructure. Good governance is important, whether or not aid is conditional on it. The parties should cooperate closely on security.
The PCA should – but won’t have a rethink: the proposed agreement is unsuitable. It is hoped to conclude it next year. There has been no progress in the trade negotiations and the absence of a trade section or agreement is now inevitable.
The methodology of the 30 plus bilateral dialogues and working groups needs a radical reform. Most of them meet occasionally, explaining their positions and, after a formal discussion, separating. They should be ongoing exercises, defining common problems and seeking common solutions. Instead of sitting on opposite sides of the table, everyone should sit on the same side with the problem in the middle – the very successful Jean Monnet approach.
Many Chinese believe that EU policy towards the PRC has hardened and become more demanding and ideological. The Commission’s policy has not changed. The attitude of the European Parliament, the media and special interest groups should not be confused with executive policies. And it must be remembered that all foreign policy is domestic and statements by politicians ahead of national elections should be treated with care.
As to MES, this is the only trade bargaining chip left for the Europeans who are reluctant to give it up without reciprocal concessions. The problem is that Beijing cannot guarantee the implementation of many market access provisions. The business community should agree with the Commission the concessions reasonably required. MES should be granted on the fulfilment of, say, half of these concessions.
As to the arms embargo, this cannot yet be lifted for political reasons. The embargo is actually irrelevant, but highly symbolic. It’s the arms code that matters. I still believe that by not selling to the PRC armaments that it anyway acquires elsewhere is ‘shooting ourselves in the foot’.
Friends of China are frustrated by the weakness of Chinese government communications, often issued in old-style propaganda form. The main sources for the European media on China tend to be the more readily available interest groups with their built-in bias. Chinese public relations are equally poor. Incidentally, while understandable why Beijing cannot ignore the Dalai Llama in Europe, his visits to European leaders only make the news because Beijing objects. There is a danger that public attacks on Mrs Kadeer will make her a cult figure. She has not previously been heard of in Europe. Whatever her true role, no European will believe that a wealthy woman, living in Washington with 11 children, is a terrorist.
China sees Europe as a useful friend and a valuable adviser, given that EU experience in many policy areas is relevant to its domestic development, but does not see the EU as a real player internationally, except in economics and trade. Outside trade, the Union has no standing. China would like it be a moderating influence with the US.
The US is always behind the scenes. It is important that are three successful bilateral relationships and more trilateral cooperation, both economically and strategically.
Returning to mutual understanding, we need to know much more about each other. The active role of the think tanks is regularly encouraged by Chinese and European leaders but the rhetoric is not supported by adequate funding.
November’ summit will focus on climate change and the financial and economic crises. Climate change offers the best opportunity for cooperation. It interacts with every sector of society and other policies.
We should not be too gloomy about the relationship, bearing in mind the huge progress made during the last decade or so. There are more issues that unite us than divide us. The glass should be looked at as half full and not half empty.
Author : Stanley Crossick