November 30, 2009
Crossick: Lifting arms embargo can break EU-China stalemate
What can we expect from the 12th China-EU summit, which takes place on 30 November in Nanjing?
In concrete terms, very little: no serious breakthrough seems likely. Some measure of agreement on climate change is hoped for. Further progress on the Partnership & Cooperation Agreement (non-trade) negotiations will no doubt be recorded, but the three difficult clauses – Taiwan, human rights and the International Criminal Court (ICC) – are still to be agreed. Very few agreements will be signed as many were signed during Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to Europe in January. There will be the usual joint statement containing a ‘shopping list’ of items.
Will the meeting break the impasse in EU-China relations?
The summit will not end the current stalemate in the relationship. However, the atmosphere is likely to be warm and friendly. The Chinese welcome the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty. They think highly of Catherine Ashton, the new EU foreign policy chief. Beijing made clear that Europe matters by holding a high-level forum on the China-EU Strategic Partnership, on 19-20 November in Beijing, attended by Chinese leaders as well as 28 European and over 50 Chinese leading scholars.
Is there no chance of seeing a great leap forward in relations at this summit?
Wen Jiabao was asked during the forum what big idea would move the relationship forward. He replied the lifting of the arms embargo and the granting of market economy status (MES). Neither step is currently contemplated, but the summit could pave the way for progress on both issues.
The bilateral meeting between [European Commission President] José Manuel Barroso and [Chinese Premier] Wen Jiabao may prove more important than the official summit, as they will be able to explore how to progress the relationship in areas not on the summit agenda.
What about the signing of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA)?
In my view, the Chinese will not sign the PCA without an EU commitment to lift the arms embargo, or possibly, the granting of MES. Beijing is right that listing China among a handful of embargoed pariah states is totally inconsistent with the treatment of a strategic partner.
The embargo seems to be the real bone of contention. What is the solution?
The Commission should categorically state that the embargo in no way controls the sale of arms – that task falls to the arms export code, which is supposed to be tightened. Wen Jiabao has offered to give an undertaking not to buy arms from EU member states. Hypocritically, arms-producing member states may not agree to this.
It is to be questioned what arms could be sold to the Chinese which they cannot already buy or produce to the same quality. The Commission should ask for an authoritative, independent report on the effect of the embargo and the arms code, examine what arms are currently sold to China by member states and what arms China cannot currently acquire, and make recommendations. There should be a public hearing.
Trade also represents a big stumbling bloc. What is the path to be taken in this respect?
The trade negotiations are not progressing at all satisfactorily. The EU should seek an early deal on MES for two reasons: if the EU does not negotiate soon it will be granted automatically in 2015-6, rendering negotiations useless. There is still an opportunity to wring some market and investment access commitments out of Beijing.
The Chinese need to appreciate that a positive approach to the lifting of MES is in their interests, because of its effect on protectionist trends. The time is also opportune as Beijing has raised the same question with Washington. Agreement would also act as a stimulus to the overall relationship. The EU should state specifically what concessions are required, proposing that half of them be fulfilled before MES is granted.
Do you think the EU is ready to engage consistently with China?
The EU suffers from insufficient officials speaking Mandarin and knowing China: this contrasts strongly with the US. It is essential that the new European External Service initiate a programme for training officials on contemporary China and to speak Mandarin.
How is the EU perceived in China?
Negative public opinion (assisted by media reporting) in both the EU and China needs to be reversed. The disillusionment on Europe by young educated Chinese is particularly worrying. Misperceptions abound.
There is a need for an intensive programme to promote mutual understanding. Communication, particularly by the Chinese, needs drastic improvement. There is a serious lack of mutual trust. Trust comes from working together. Mutual understanding facilitates working together. When EU and Chinese negotiators meet, it is essential that they understand how the other sees the problem and its context.