The 7th Sino-EU Summit Meeting and the Sino-European Relations in the Future

von Pan Zhenqiang
Online Info-Dienst Ausgabe 7/2004

Online Info-Dienst Ausgabe 7/2004

On December 8, 2004 Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visited Hague and attended the seventh Sino-EU Summit Meeting. Taking the opportunity at The Hague, he also paid a formal visit to the Netherlands. The event is another important step for China and Europe to the further development of their comprehensive strategic partnership.

The Summit Meeting is touted as a great success in producing very rich and positive results. As the first meeting after the European Union elected new leadership, it serves as a link between the past and the future. Two joint declarations, namely, "Joint Declaration of the Seventh China-EU Summit' Meeting", and "Joint Declaration on Non-proliferation and Arms Control" were signed. Both have far-reaching significance. "The Joint Declaration of the Seventh China-EU Leaders' Meeting is finalized after repeated consultations of both sides and outlined China-EU cooperation in more than 30 fields including politics, economy, society, science & technology, culture, education, environmental protection and international affairs, containing both grand objectives and down-to-earth measures. The Joint Declaration has drawn high attention of the international community that China-EU relations are stepping into a new development stage. China-EU Joint Declaration on Non-proliferation and Arms Control made it clear that China and EU are important strategic partners of each other in non-proliferation and arms control, showing that bilateral strategic consensus is increasing"(1). During the summit, a number of important bilateral cooperation agreements were also signed, such as the agreement on China-EU science & technology cooperation and the agreement on China-EU customs cooperation. In addition, accompanied with the summit, two important activities were conducted: one was the China-EU Business Summit, in which over 500 Chinese and European entrepreneurs participated. The other was the China-EU Think-tank Roundtable Meeting jointly held by the two sides, attended by related experts and scholars from China and EU to discuss issues of common concern, especially how to develop bilateral ties against the background of increasing challenges brought about by globalization.

Wen Jiabao returned to Beijing after the meeting with a broad beaming face. Evidently, from China's perspective, the summit has opened up a new vista for the long-term friendly cooperation between China and Europe.

The expansion and deepening of the ties between two sides does not come as a surprise. In fact, a number of recent developments have paved fundamentally the way for this.

First of all, as two truly rising strategic forces in the world today, both China and Europe must be increasingly aware of the growing important role of the other side in the international area, and the significance of better mutual understanding and mutual support in their policies in order to better protect their own vital interests. On China' part, Beijing views the European integration further moving ahead as one of the positive signs that the world is heading towards healthy multipolarity. Particularly in 2004, when the EU completed the largest expansion since its founding and set up the new EU Commission and European Parliament, the union has become the largest international political and economic entity, comprising 25 nations, covering 3.973 million square kilometers, and having a total GDP over US $10 trillion dollars. During the Cold War, Beijing had also an interest in seeking cooperation with Europe. But its efforts seemed primarily driven by a desire to use Europe as either a counterweight to the threat from the former Soviet Union or a convenient tool in constraining the moves of the United States. Today, Beijing's motivations have evidently gone far beyond the Cold War mentality. It has taken Europe not only as an irreplaceable partner in economic and trade interactions, but also an essential component in the future world structure. On the part of Europe, it is also clear that the rapid development and the rising influence of China must provide great incentives for the EU to seek more intimate cooperation with Beijing.

Secondly, the two sides do witness growing common interests particularly in their economic interactions. The bilateral economic and trade cooperation has grown rapidly. Bilateral trade amounted to 125 billion US $ in 2003, a forty-fold increase since 1978 when China began to open up. In the first 10 months of 2004, bilateral trade reached a record high of over 142 billion US $, a 34.4 percent growth over the same period last year. Expanded EU has now become the biggest trade partner of China and China has become the second biggest trade partner of EU. Interestingly, the rapid progress of the two sides has been at least partly due to the over-stringent policy of the United States and Japan on the high-tech transfers. The EU seems to be more open-minded and forthcoming in that field. During the Summit Meeting, the two sides signed a number of cooperation documents including an agreement on Galileo satellite navigation cooperation. Greater scientific and technological exchanges have become a major portion of the future cooperation between the two sides, something not to be found particularly prominent in China's relations with either Washington or Tokyo. There is also another area which seems increasingly to add dynamic to the China-Europe cooperation, and that is cultural exchanges. Both sides seem to be mutually attracted by the other side's cultural traditions and brilliant historical heritages. In China this year, activities with France labeled as "year of French culture" proved to be especially successful, generating extraordinary enthusiasm of the average people to know more about Europe. A boom of tourism to Europe has been sustained in China. Many friends of mine have been to Europe as tourists, coming back, stricken with great admiration of European ancient architecture, rich historical relics, beautiful landscapes and fascinating fine arts like music, paintings etc. On the other hand, European tourists to China are increasing likewise. Viewing the situation, the Seventh Summit Meeting signed a memorandum of understanding on the EU countries becoming an approved destination for Chinese tourists. The measure will provide new momentum to the cultural exchanges between China and Europe in the future, and will surely go a long way towards building better understanding of and greater trust and confidence in each other.

Thirdly, the increasing common ground on the world security issues has provided solid political support to the cooperation of the two sides. As reflected in the two joint declarations, China and Europe today have shared views on almost all the vital security issues in the world. Both agreed that there is no fundamental interest in conflict between them. In this regard, unlike the US and Japan, the EU has made it clear that it pursues one China policy, a stance, that makes China more comfortable in its relations with Europe. The two sides have very similar, if not completely same, threat perceptions, and call for a multilateral, comprehensive and cooperative approach to addressing many threats that the international community faces. More importantly, both sides wish to see the world develop to a multipolar one, in which all nations live with each other in peace and harmony and not dominated by any single power or a power group. Both sides also stress that the desire to see a multipolar world does not necessarily mean a joint effort of China and Europe to keep America down. On the contrary, both sides have made it explicit that they both want to be friends to the United States, and that greater China-EU cooperation is not directed against any third parties, and is not at the expense of the US interests in particular. This common understanding offers a strong political support to the sustained and strong China-EU ties in the future.

Last but not the least, the two sides seem also to succeed in putting the bilateral relations on an more institutionalized track, thus insuring the two sides to develop their interactions in a more predictable and manageable way. First, both China and Europe have each conducted comprehensive studies on its relations with the other in a systematic and thoughtful manner, which have resulted in long-term and coherent strategies of both sides on their future relationship. On the EU side, it has formulated a series of comprehensive documents on its relations with China since 1995. Among the others, "a Long-term Policy for China-Europe Relations" in 1995, and "Building a Comprehensive Partnership with China" in 1998 are most significant as both set the basic tone for the future relationship between China and Europe. The latter document stressed that "China's emergence as an increasingly confident world power is of immense historic significance, both to Europe and to the international community as a whole. China has become a major partner in a world increasingly bound together by the forces of globalization... Engaging China's emerging economic and political power, as well as integrating China into the international community, may prove one of the most important external policy challenges facing Europe and other partners in the 21st century" (2). In 2003, China advanced its first document related to its policy towards Europe. Like the European document, the Chinese one also set the tone for its own strategy towards Europe, striving to establish an overall strategic partnership relationship with it. In addition, the Chinese document tried to lay out some fundamental principles as basic guidelines to the positive development of this bilateral relationship. Thus, development of China and Europe is not driven by ad hoc considerations or expediency. Rather, it has been built on a sound theoretical basis. Second, the two sides have succeeded in establishing channels of contact at various levels, bringing the bilateral ties on a very regular basis. In addition to the summit meeting each year, starting in 1998, the two sides have also had mechanisms of exchanges of visits at various working levels, and ad hoc groups to treat differences whenever they occur. There are also numerous contact of China with each of the EU member states. All these combined have come to form a working network that help push cooperation where their interests are overlapping; to manage differences where their interests don't; and to avoid confrontation where their interests are in conflict. Finally, through many years' contact, it seems also that the two sides have come to agree to a set of guidelines as a code of conduct, essential in enhancing further trust and confidence in each other. These guidelines could be summarized as 1) mutual respect and trust; 2) equality and mutual benefit; 3) seeking common ground while reserving differences; 4) insisting on cooperation to achieve win-win results.

Owing to the above said trends, it can be argued that the China-EU relationship will not only be one of the most important bilateral relationships in the world, but also be hopefully most successful one in the future. The implications of the evolution of this relationship to the world will be tremendous.

In China's perspective, the strengthened ties between the two sides will be an integral part of a multipolar world in the future. Further, the China-EU cooperation could also be helpful in leading to a more balanced world security structure and more fair and reasonable world order. It is also hoped that the ties will enhance the international united force in the fighting against many cross border security issues like nonproliferation and war on terror, etc.

On the other hand, the generally rosy picture of the future China-EU relations does not mean this cooperation between the two sides will be a smooth sailing all the way without pitfalls or obstacles. There are quite a few. The Seventh Summit Meeting, for example, has failed to provide a satisfactory solution to the concern of the Chinese side on two vital issues, namely, the lifting of embargo of arms on China and the recognition of China's economic market status (EMS) by the European Union. The EU seems still not quite prepared to do both although it leaves some room open for the solution in the indefinite future.

With regard to the issue of EU lifting of arms embargo on China, China believes "this embargo has become outdated since long. Over 15 years the situation in no matter China or EU, or even in the entire world, has undergone fundamental changes. To continue to keep the embargo neither complies with the reality and nature of the all-round strategic partnership between China and EU nor meets the requirements of future development of bilateral ties. Embargo is a kind of political discrimination, and it is impossible that bilateral relations will not be affected with such embargo be maintained" (3). During the Summit Meeting, Wen also made it clear that "arm sales embargo against China is a legacy of the Cold War". He stressed that "to demand the lifting of arms sales embargo does not mean that China would like to buy advanced weapons from Europe. Rather, it is aimed to oppose political discrimination against China" (4). But unfortunately, the EU has not been able to make it. Reasons for the failure could be many. Division of views among members of the union is said to be the primary cause. But clearly pressure from outside on EU not to do so is also the major reason. In addition, some Chinese analysts suspect that at least some members of the EU would not like to lift the embargo lightly as they might wish to use the issue as a bargaining chip to trade off some compensation from China on other issues.

As for the EMS issue, the joint statement of Summit only iterated that "the EU welcomed the positive orientation of China towards building a market economy. Both sides welcomed the creation of a working group aimed at actively identifying a practical solution to this issue" (5). But again, no specific commitment was given. Clearly economic interests sit behind the noncommittal tone of the EU. If China's EMS granted, it will no doubt strengthen its position in the framework of the WTO against any discriminatory moves of the EU in the name of anti-dumping clause.

The failure of reaching agreement of the two sides on the above said issues has demonstrated that China and EU still have divergent perceptions when their economic interests involved in some cases. The relations seem also troubled occasionally by their different ideologies and outlooks like views on human rights or sovereignty. Further, while the EU has been struggling to have an independent foreign and security policy, the Union has to yield to the pressure from Washington in its positions sometimes not the least because of the divergent views within the expanded EU itself. All these are having negative impact on the China-EU relations. But these problems pale compared to the growing common ground between the two sides. Thanks to the established mechanisms aimed at trouble-shooting in their interactions, one is confident that the two sides are fully competent in managing and solving these differences in the future.

Thus there are good reasons to believe that a new type of state-to-state relations between China and EU are emerging. The key to the success is that the two sides continue to make efforts to foster their relations based on mutual trust and understanding. And as long as the two sides stick to mutual respect and trust, bilateral relations will surely witness continuous promotion and development.


(1) Li Zhaoxing, "Opening New Phases of China-EU Friendly Cooperation" - Talks About the Achievements of Premier Wen Jiabao's Visit to Europe, December 10, 2004. Http://www.fmprc.gov.en/eng/topics /wenJiabaocxezohy/t174793.htm.

(2) EU document "Building a Comprehensive Partnership with China". March 25, 2004. Http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/china/com_98/com98_0htm.

(3) Foreign Ministry Officials Holds Briefing on Premier Wen Jiabao's Attending of the Seventh China EU Summit and Visit to the Netherlands. December 3, 2004. Http://www.fmpre.gov.cn/eng.

(4) Wen Jiabao, "Arms Sales Embargo against China is a Legacy of the Cold War", December 8, 2004. Http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/zxxx/t173843.htm.

(5) Joint Statement of the Seventh China-EU Summit. December 9, 2004. Http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/topics/WenJiabaocxezohy/t174512.htm.

The Author:

Major General Pan Zhenqiang (retired) is Professor and Deputy President of the Shanghai Institute for International Strategic Studies.

Frühere Ausgaben des Online Info-Dienstes siehe unter:

The Sino-American Relations in the Future (Nr. 6)

Nuclear Nonproliferation - Past, present and future (Nr. 5)

What the Asia-Pacific Can Learn from the European Integration? (Nr. 4)

Solution for the Nuclear Issue of North Korea Hopeful But Still Uncertain (Nr. 3)

China's Security Agenda in 2004 (Nr. 2)

China's Non-Proliferation Policy and Practices (Nr. 1)