How to look at China-EU relations?

14:19, November 27, 2009      

Email | Print | Subscribe | Comments | Forum 

How to define Sino-EU relations, how to position the Sino-EU relations and how to deal with relations with third countries are the three major challenges for both sides to look at if one likes to clearly define what China-EU relationship should be.

Professor Song Xinning, from the United Nations University gave an overview on Sino-EU relations, challenges and opportunities at the Asia Forum held by Institute of Security and Development Policy in Stockholm recently.

"There is misunderstanding and over expectations from both China and EU sides. There is a gap between reality and their expectations," said Professor Song whose studies focus on Sino-EU relations.

"It is very important to keep dialogue between the two sides since there are misunderstandings," stressed Professor Song.

Rapid and smooth development

He said China and EU relationship experienced a rapid and smooth development period from 1995 up to 2002 because both sides have clear and pragmatic objectives on promoting China-EU relations. Bilateral trade volume increased from 42 billion dollars in 1994 to 420 billion dollars in 2008.

Since 2004, EU became the number 1 trade partner with China. And in 2006 and 2007, EU became the largest export market for China to replace the US. About 50% of the technology transfer came from the EU countries while 20% from Japan and only 8% from the US to China. EU is the biggest provider of technology to China. EU is the first partner in the world to have an agreement on peaceful use of nuclear energy with China.


However, EU-China relations experienced a very cold period in 2008 after the so-called 'honeymoon' from 2003.

Professor Song held that there wasn't really 'honeymoon' since EU and China never had a 'marriage'.

Many believe the so-called honey-moon period began in 2003.

"There was greater expectation and imagination from China on the EU. The important factor was the Iraq issue. For China there was over expectation on EU's role and capacity to be a single global player. A lot of people in China thought the trans-Atlantic Alliance was over," said Professor Song.

On the European side, in 2003, according to the Solana report, for the first time, the European Union mentioned that China was one of the strategic partner with the EU.

"That was a kind of symbolic, both sides talked too much about the strategic partnership. With the strategic partnership, China imagined that you should lift the embargo on arms sales and grant China's market economy status, China even demanded that," explained Professor Song. "But all these expectations from China didn’t happen."

Up to 2005, both sides started to get rid of the so-called honey-moon to more pragmatic cooperation. In 2005, Beijing summit developed a strategic partnership through concrete methods; in 2006 in Helsinki summit, there were 36 items for cooperation between EU and China; in 2007 in Beijing, there were 47 items for cooperation, according to Professor Song.

Changes on EU China policy

But the problem began in 2008, many things between the two-sides stopped.
Professor Song analyzed that there was a big change in EU's China policy through the policy papers from EU commission and the EU Council in 2006 on trade and development.

"Compared the new papers with the previous five papers in the late 1990s, the EU commission strongly emphasized that China is the single most EU threat, strongly emphasized that the partnership must be balanced, reciprocal and mutually beneficial," said Professor Song,
"The council guidelines in 2007 even define China as the potential trouble maker in security issue, but is China a security threat to EU? EU's role in East Asia in security issue is very marginalized," held Professor Song.

"But Chinese government didn’t say there is a need to readjust its EU policy, the problem in 2008 forced the Chinese government to rethink its relations with EU.The remarks from Wen Jiabao in China-EU summit in Prague meant that the Chinese government worried about sincerity from the European side, there were a lot of debate in China about China-EU relations during that period," said Professor Song.

"I personally think the EU is still very important to China in terms of social power, I strongly think it is important to Chinese domestic policy," said Professor Song.

Big gap in understanding the importance of China-EU relations

“First there is a big gap from both sides in understanding the strategic partnership, there is a big gap in expectations, there is over expectation from both sides,” said Professor Song.

Second, how to position the role of the EU and China? While China thinks China is still a regional power, many others think China is a global power. My impression is that the European side overestimated the role of China, and overestimated the role of EU.

The third challenge is how to look at the third countries, referring the US, East Asia and other parts of the world.

"There is no debate that US is an important partner for both China and EU not only because the US is still a super power, but also because its strength in security and economy, the import volume of US and Canada together from China decreased less than that of the EU during the first half of this year".

In East Asia, China is still a regional power. Neighborly relations are still the most important. The major security concern is the neighboring countries. The US and China relations relate to neighboring countries.
“In Asia, 10 ASEAN countries plus two-Japan and South Korea, plus two-Taiwan and Hong Kong, accounts for 40% of China’s foreign trade. So China's economy is based on Asia, not the US or EU. If you calculate pacific areas, then 70%. EU trade with China accounts for 17%. Trade with Japan and South Korea together is bigger than that with the EU” said Professor Song.

Meanwhile, EU's role in East Asia security issue is marginalized,he added.

"Not many Europeans pay attention to EU's social and economic role in the region. ASEAN clearly likes to follow the model or certain things in European integration, such as the institutional and legal matters" said Professor Song.

"About Africa, EU and China have similar concern in Africa, not common concern. We need more mutual and common concern, otherwise, how can we talk about strategic partnership?" asked Professor Song.

Although there are many problems, because of Prague summit, EU-China relationship is back on track.The basic foundations in economic and global cooperation are still there, said Professor Song.

The opportunities are based on how to solve that three challenges, which are a kind of task for more dialogues and also the next Sino-EU summit in Beijing later this year.

By Xuefei Chen, People's Daily Online, Stockholm
  • Do you have anything to say?

Related Channel News

Special Coverage
Major headlines
Editor's Pick
Most Popular
Hot Forum Dicussion