Stanley's blog

There has been much talk in the past about China and the European Union having more in common in a number of policy areas than either has with the United States. Thus Beijing saw the EU as a potential factor moderating US influence; Washington could see a world being led by a G2 of the US and China…

2009 saw all three bilateral relationships cooling. Problems affecting China-EU relations include the arms embargo, market economy status, the Dalai Lama, anti-dumping, market access, Copenhagen, Akmal Shaikh… China-US relations have been affected by President Obama’s visit to China, his meeting the Dalai Lama, Google, the US arms sale to Taiwan, the value of the RMB…EU-US relations under Obama have been disappointing, with tensions over Afghanistan and the President’s unwillingness to attend an EU-US summit.

Significantly, since the global financial and economic crisis, there has been an increased meeting of European and American minds. There is considerable concern over foreign policy issues, such as Iran, Myanmar, and China’s more assertive, even arrogant, attitude. Economically, it is felt that China has made no effort to correct the imbalance in international trade and that, despite the goodwill shown to China there has been no reciprocity.

Both the EU and US are unhappy about being put to shame over the financial and economic crisis, their loss of influence to China and, as they see it, the failure of China to behave as a “responsible stakeholder”. While this increased Chinese influence is recognized as being inevitable, it is difficult for the West to accept that it is losing its long established international supremacy. And American and European citizens resent their loss of jobs to China.

China’s uncompromising behaviour is having the effect of drawing the EU and US closer together again. The biggest current danger is trade protectionism rising in the US and spreading to Europe, to everyone’s detriment, with China suffering the most. Beijing’s attitude on new sanctions against Iran could trigger off an even more negative attitude in the West. Obama’s lack of success at home and the unpopularity of EU governments could encourage populist attacks on China.

Beijing must recognize that it has few friends in the West and, accordingly, would find it very difficult to counteract hostile action, supported by the Taiwan, Tibet and human rights lobbies, even though China has its own economic and financial weapons.

Whether or not Western attitudes are fair, their current perception of China is increasingly unfavourable, and this should be taken into account in the formulation of Chinese policies. China’s image in the world is important for China. The triumvirate all need each other and need to pull in the same direction. Poor relations between them would be very harmful and no-one should want a trial of strength.

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  1. A helpful analysis. But I find your penultimate paragraph to be less understanding of China.

    Various accounts show that Chinese leaders are well aware of how the EU and the US perceive their country. And to use the term “even though” implies that you believe their economic and financial weapons are less strong than Western “hostile action” (whatever that might be? If so, I suggest that you are mistaken.

    My understanding is that China both wants to be accepted and recognised on the world stage as befits its (real) strength, and is unafraid of using that strength if recognition is not forthcoming. China believes that the time has come for her to return to her former status of THE leading world power.

    Yes, a “trial of strength” should be avoided: not so much for China’s sake but for the rest of the world’s.

  2. French Derek

    I agree with your understanding, but not what you believe the words “even though” to imply

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