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EU-China Prospects

EU-China Prospects

23 March 2012

Ambassador Wu Heilong opened this joint event organised by the EU-Asia Centre and the Madariaga Foundation on 20 March. He said that the EU-China relationship was one of the most important relationships in the world. Some people had described the last summit in February as the most successful ever. It was important to maintain the momentum. The EU and China were leading trade partners. There were over 20,000 European companies operating in China. With over $4.2 billion investment in Europe last year China was also becoming an important provider of FDI in the EU. The relationship was also solidly based on expanding people-to-people contacts and a high-level event in this field was planned for 18 April in Brussels. There was also a high-level strategic dialogue planned for July and another summit scheduled in the second half of the year. Other areas for cooperation included urbanisation, cyber security, energy, science and technology. There were over 50 dialogues between the EU and China. There was a high degree of complementarity between the Chinese Five Year Plan and the EU’s 2020 aims. The EU and China were also cooperating closely on global issues including climate change, terrorism, piracy, Iran and Syria. There was still much to do, however, to increase mutual trust and understanding. More exchanges at all levels and increased trade and investment would help. Meanwhile it was important to manage differences along the lines -‘don’t do to others what you would not like to be done to you.’

Some economic frictions were normal. There was a need to secure broader public support for the relationship. It was regrettable that the EU had taken a unilateral decision on airline emissions. There was a danger of growing protectionism as shown by the EU having greater recourse to trade defence mechanisms. In response to questions the ambassador said that political and economic reforms must go together. He said that public procurement procedures in China were open, fair and transparent. Cooperation on Iran and Syria was on-going.

Gerhard Sabathil, Director for East Asia (EEAS), agreed that it was important to build on the momentum provided by the 14th summit. The EU side had appreciated China’s backing for the euro. Trade and investment were growing but there were some difficult problems to resolve. There were several new agenda issues to work on including energy, cyber security and people to people contacts. Cathy Ashton would be visiting China in July for the strategic dialogue. In response to a question of visas, Sabathil said this had to be viewed against the wider background of concerns about illegal immigration and the need for readmission agreements.

Professor Hong Zhou (CASS) said there were different views of the relationship. Some considered it a strategic partnership while others viewed it as containment (referring to the arms embargo). Others regarded it as a framework for developing relations. The relationship had become less strategic since 2003 as evidenced by the problems over Gallileo. There were still many problems to overcome but each side could learn from each other. Asked about political reform, Zhou said that there had been remarkable reform in the past 30 years. One had to see reform in a historical context.

Pierre Defraigne, Madariaga Foundation, stated that the EU and China were highly inter-dependent and the EU should accept China for what it was. The CCP had done a remarkable job in lifting so many people out of poverty in a unique manner. China now had to develop a long-term vision for further development based on utilisation of Western technology. Its huge size meant that it had the capacity to experiment. At the same time it would have to adjust (like the EU) to a changing global order. If the EU was to play a real global role it would have to find a way to develop growth. The old model of integration was dead. A two-speed Europe was inevitable.

Fraser Cameron concluded the discussion by referring to the domestic changes in China this year. There had already been a political earthquake in China with the dismissal of Bo Xilai from Chongquin. He hoped the new Chinese leadership would maintain a positive approach to the EU. The EU seemed to have overcome the worst of the crisis and the new authority that the EU institutions had gained on financial policy could be the spur for deeper integration. Whatever direction the EU took, it was highly likely that it would have to maintain an ever-closer relationship with China.

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