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Process, not policy, helps Sino-EU ties

By Gustaaf Geeraerts (Global Times)

09:18, July 13, 2012

The encounter between EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo on Tuesday showed once more that even though China and Europe have become highly interdependent and therefore sensitive to each other's policies and development, they have distinctive identities and define their value preferences differently.

Forging a real Sino-EU strategic partnership will be a long-term effort. Sino-European interchange will be based on a difficult balancing act between competition and cooperation. In the best case this means an enlightened calibrating of national interests and global governance ambitions within a complex and transforming global environment. To be successful both China and Europe need to come to grips with their diverging value expectations and try to reach a pragmatic compromise on how to make policies complementary and mutually supportive.

Therefore it is a good thing that the EU and China are already trying to improve communication through mechanisms such as the High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue, Strategic Dialogue, and most recently the People-to-People Dialogue.

While, little can be expected to result from these dialogues in terms of substantive policy changes in the short run, it is the process itself that is important. It is the process that can shape a substantive partnership in the long run. Over time, officials are more likely to gravitate toward a common diagnosis of crucial problems in the Sino-EU relationship and their solution.

While for Europe it is key to redress its public debt and regain its economic dynamism, at the same time keeping protectionist pressures at bay, the challenge for China is to develop its domestic market and make it as open as possible.

In due time officials from both sides may well come to share a diagnosis of what needs to be done. Importantly, in the process they also need to create and sustain domestic political and economic conditions that enable enduring support for a balanced Sino-EU partnership.

Gustaaf Geeraerts, professor and director, Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studie.


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