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NPC and EU-China Relations

The NPC and EU - China Relations

21 March 2013

EU-China Relations after the National People’s Congress

On 21 March, the EU-Asia Centre and the Brussels Institute for Contemporary China Studies (BICCS) held a panel discussion on the prospects of EU-China relations after the National People’s Congress. The discussion was chaired by Fraser Cameron, Director of the EU-Asia Centre.

New Leadership: Professor Jiang Shixue, Deputy Director of the EU Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), said the leadership had been greatly institutionalized since the 1970s, which had reduced the scope for radical policy changes. No important adjustments could be expected from Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Regarding domestic issues, Jiang considered that the new Chinese leaders should focus more on environmental degradation, corruption and the decline of social ethics rather than on GDP growth at all costs; in foreign policy China would focus on territorial integrity. The prospects for EU-China relations were hopeful, Jiang said, however, Europe should express more gratitude towards Chinese help with the financial crisis, take the Strategic Partnership more seriously, acknowledge China’s automatic achievement of market economy status in 2016 and understand the Chinese political system better. Regarding China’s role in dealing with North Korea, Jiang said that China was trying to mediate but was sometimes not able to get through.

Duncan Freeman, Senior Fellow at BICCS, agreed with Jiang that no major changes should be expected including in the economy.  The focus of the Chinese leadership had been on gradualism rather than on radicalism and would continue on that path. However, need for change had been recognized by the Chinese leadership and changes regarding redistribution and the income gap were to be expected. In foreign policy, the Chinese leadership would probably not change its approach significantly as core interests were at stake. Misunderstandings were likely to persist despite increased exchange on both sides.

John Farnell, former director at DG Enterprise at the European Commission, stressed the role financial market mechanisms played in creating inequality in China. Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) needed to be protected not only for foreign but for Chinese firms as well. Whilst China recognized the problems it was facing, the biggest problem was China’s lack of capacity to innovate. More needed to be done on the EU level in terms of cooperation on technology and innovation.

Jolita Pons from the China Division at the European External Action Service (EEAS) said continuity was also expected to dominate EU-China relations. The goal of the EEAS was to enhance common ground on global and regional issues. Deeper cooperation on IPR was needed and the Chinese interest in green growth should be seized as an opportunity for cooperation. Human rights and rule of law would be further pursued. People-to-people exchanges would foster mutual understanding. Considering that the Strategic Partnership was only reaching its decennial this year, much progress had been made and engagement should be further pursued despite differences. The EU needed to better understand the significance of a common foreign policy and make itself more relevant in Asia. However, the EU did not have much leverage.

The discussion centred around possible factors derailing Chinese growth, the chances of decreasing environmental degradation, the territorial disputes around China and the role of the EU in Asia.