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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

China-EU ties caught in vicious cycle

August 21, 2009

By Jian Junbo
Asia Times

AALBORG, Denmark -- China has historically
maintained friendly relations with Western
Europe. In 1975, when China was undergoing the
Cultural Revolution, Beijing forged formal ties
with the European Economic Community, a European
Community institution that was the predecessor of
the current European Union (EU).

China has established diplomatic relations with
many Western European countries, and Sino-EU ties
have progressed well since the end of the Cold
War. In 1998, the first Sino-EU summit was held
in London with both sides pledging to build a
"long, stable and constructive partnership".

In 2003, the two sides upgraded their bilateral
relations from "constructive partnership" to
"comprehensive strategic partnership". A joint
commitment to the strategic partnership was
strengthened in the 11th Sino-EU summit held in Prague last May.

This improvement in Sino-EU relations is good
news for both sides, as it has created stable
international relations and mutual benefits.
Unfortunately, the Sino-EU comprehensive
strategic partnership is neither "comprehensive" nor "strategic" in reality.

Wu Jianmin, the president of China Foreign
Affairs University and ex-ambassador to France,
said that the China and the EU's partnership is
"comprehensive" as it covers many fields such as
politics, economy, culture, technology, education and military links.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao gave more
authoritative interpretation during a visit to
Brussels in 2004. Wen said that the term
"comprehensive" means both sides should cooperate
in politics and culture as well as trade and
technology. He said the links should be bilateral
and multilateral; that they should be long-term
and stable; and that they should extend beyond
differences over ideology and social systems.

But Wen's definition was also an admission that
the current Sino-EU "comprehensive strategic
relationship", especially its "strategic" aspect,
remains a goal rather than a reality. This may be due to several factors.

First, there is no genuine "stability" in
relations between China and the EU. Bilateral
relations are easily challenged by international
incidents. For example, last year's Sino-EU
summit was initially postponed by Beijing after
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, then also the
rotating president of the European Council, met
the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader in exile.

Second, cooperation between China and the EU is
mostly limited to economic matters. Cooperation
in other important fields has fallen into
stalemate, with two major stalling points being
China's human-rights record and the EU's embargo
on arm sales to China. If China-EU cooperation
can be successful only in economic terms, it is
unlikely that "long-term" ties can be developed.

In view of these factors, the future of the
Sino-EU strategic relationship may not be so
bright. A lack of mutual trust stands out as the
most obvious obstacle to the strategic
partnership becoming a reality. This can be
partly - or perhaps completely - blamed on some
negative policies of the EU and its members.

The European Parliament and some EU member states
often imposes pressure on China by intervening in
its internal affairs. Beijing considers such
pressure like a policy of containment against
China as a rising power. The EU and some of its
members' intervention in China's internal affairs
appear hypocritical, and this is undermining the
basis of the strategic relationship.

The EU and its member states will play the Tibet
or human-rights card whenever they see fit, yet
China doesn't have the means or desire to respond
in kind. Beijing has in the past used its
economic leverage to "punish" the EU, but China
has never tried to intervene in EU member states' domestic affairs.

In international relations theory, there is often
reference to self-fulfilling prophecies. The
theory is that one state's goodwill towards
another will result in the latter reciprocating.
The same can be true in negative cycles.

If the current Sino-EU relations are examined
with this theory, it is clear that both sides are
pushing movement of this vicious circle - a
negative self-fulfilling prophecy, which has
basically resulted from misunderstanding.

In order to remove the mistrust between the two
sides, it's necessary to first dissipate
misunderstanding and enhance mutual
understanding. If the two sides do want to build
a genuine strategic partnership, both sides
should devote effort and time to this.

It is well known that the Cold War is over, and
realpolitik to some degree is obsolete with the
coming of globalization. Governance is much more
important and efficient than competition in power
spheres when it comes to solving international issues.

Unfortunately, both China and the EU view each
other as competing in ideology. The human-rights
situation in China is better than in the past, so
China views the human-rights policy of the EU
(and the United States) towards China as not
well-intentioned but a malicious intervention in its affairs.

China and the EU should try and resolve common
problems through an effective joint mechanism.
Several communication channels currently exist,
but do not seem to be effective. Given the
influence and importance of these two powers in
the world, both sides need to understand that a
strategic relationship is different from and more
importance than common bilateral relations.

Jian Junbo, assistant professor of the Institute
of International Studies at Fudan University,
Shanghai, China, is currently a visiting scholar
of Department of History, International and
Social Studies, Aalborg University, Denmark.
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