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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Sino-EU relations on rocky road to recovery

March 19, 2009

Andrew Willis
Eurobserver
March 17, 2009

BRUSSELS -- Securing good political relations
between the European Union and the Peoples'
Republic of China is not something that can be
achieved overnight. One is a heterogeneous
hotchpotch of democratically elected governments,
the other, a one-party state where criticism of
the communist leadership is rarely tolerated.

Nevertheless, the two sides had made great
strides towards deepening ties until a cancelled
summit last December seemed to undo much of the progress.

The decision was prompted by French president
Nicholas Sarkozy's decision to meet with the Dali
Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, towards the
end of last year, at a time when France held the
rotating presidency of the council of ministers.

At the time, European Commission president, Jose
Manuel Barroso, expressed his frustration by
saying: "frankly there was no reason for this decision."

Things have improved since then, helped in part
by the economic crisis says Belgian liberal MEP,
Dirk Sterckx, who heads the European Parliament's delegation to China.

"I think things are getting better," he told
EUobserver in an interview. "Everybody realises
that this is not a time to quarrel but a time to work together."

Indeed 2009 may see a record two EU-China summits
taking place, one planned for the second half of
May under the Czech presidency and a possible
second one under the Swedish presidency in the latter half of the year.

The ongoing negotiations to upgrade formal
relations between the two sides, currently
governed by the 1985 Trade and Cooperation
Agreement, to a Partnership and Cooperation
Agreement (PCA), are a sign of good diplomatic health.

"It is something formal but it is a very clear
signal on how far you want to go as partners," Mr
Sterckx says of the PCA. "I think it would be a
bad thing if these talks collapsed."

"Of course it takes time because it's a difficult
negotiation. If you want to have this kind of
agreement you bring your collaboration one step
higher which means that you don't just talk about
trade. You also talk about political subjects."

Tibet

Despite the economic crisis pushing the two sides
closer together, one political subject in
particular continues to frustrate the drive for better relations.

Last Thursday, MEPs adopted a resolution urging
the Chinese government to resume talks with the
Dali Lama's representatives and negotiate a
"positive, meaningful change in Tibet," not ruling out autonomy for the region.

The move has gone down very badly with the
Chinese. "They are cross about our position,"
says Mr Sterckx of the EP resolution designed to
mark the 50th Anniversary of the Tibet uprising
against Chinese rule that resulted in the Dali Lami's exile to India.

"I hope we can come closer to a negotiated
agreement in Tibet, but the Chinese say there is
no agreement to be made. You have these two views
and it's very difficult to get a good discussion
about this, it makes them very nervous," he said.

The Dalai Lama's envoys released a memorandum on
autonomy, which was presented to Chinese
officials during the latest and eighth round of
dialogue last November in Beijing.

Last week's European Parliament resolution called
on the Chinese government to consider the
memorandum as a basis for discussions and equally
called on the Czech presidency to adopt a similar declaration.

"I would be surprised [if they do]," Mr Sterckx added.

Rearmament

Such is the debate on Tibet that one issue
normally guaranteed to raise political hackles
has received little attention in recent months.
China's defense spending rose by 17.6 percent
last year, but the EU appears unconcerned by this.

"If you look at military spending, it is of
course growing in China but it is at a much lower
level than for instance that of the United
States," says Mr Sterckx, who also points to the
very low number of Chinese soldiers on foreign soil.

"I hope that we don't get into an arms race as
that would be a very useless thing to do. But of
course there is the historical frustration of
China having lost over the last two hundred years
a large part of its territory to people who were
militarily stronger than they were."

Despite this hang-up, he feels the Chinese move
is this area is not a threat to Europe. "It is
difficult to get information on this but, as far
as I read, they are using a lot of the money to
modernize rather than to expand their forces," he explained.
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