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Misunderstanding China

February 10, 2010

Andy Carling
New Europe, Issue: 868
February 8, 2010

Speaking at a meeting organised by the EU And
Asia Policy Forum at the European Policy Centre,
leading Chinese scholar, Jianxiong Ge, said that
the EU needed a greater understanding of the
cultural and historical roots that underpinned
Chinese foreign policy. Using maps, he
illustrated how the different regions of the
nation had evolved from small kingdoms into the
emerging superpower we see today.  Ge, who is a
member of the Standing committee of the People's
Political Consultative Congress, stressed the
importance of researching accurate history. As an
example, he quoted a map he had researched in the
1970's that was controversial because it showed
the expansion of Tibet and his colleagues feared
it would be used to promote a 'greater Tibet'.
Winning the debate, the map was published and Ge
argued that historians and other scholars "must
re-establish history, based on reality" and noted
that, in recent years, he had been able to enjoy
greater academic freedom. This wasn't to benefit
historians, but to benefit all of society.

Questioned on Tibet, he expressed his desire to
look for a balance between competing political
aims, "by negotiation and compromise". He also
raised the issue of culture, pointing out the
role of memory in society, saying "every nation
has favourable memories, but we must face
reality," adding that the Confucian heritage was
central as, "Chinese tend to think of outsiders
as barbarians because they have not had the
advantage of a Confucian education". He explained
that this outlook, which was still prevalent in
some parts, was behind the isolationism and the
disinterest in international relations. Ge
reminded the audience that, although many nations
share the same concept of sovereignty, using
international law as a foundation, the ancient
Chinese had no real concept of nation states as
"everything under Heaven belonged to the King or
Emperor". He added that, "some Chinese remember
the older times, view the rise of China and say
that we will be the master now; it's our turn.
But most want to get on with the world."

Speaking of Chinese intentions, he said that it
was a tough task to balance domestic and foreign
policy, noting that most Chinese citizens were
poor and rural. For EU Asia relations, he said
the best result was for the parties to appreciate
each other and urged patience as China was moving
from a highly centralised state. He warned the EU
that soft power was the only effective course,
saying that the EU needed to remember that the
Chinese had grave domestic concerns, a tendency
towards isolationism and a need not to lose face.
He advised the new External Action Service to be
patient and suggested that it should slowly build
mutual understanding through diplomacy and by
building links between EU and Chinese
institutions, such as universities. Noting that
Europe is seeing more Chinese tourists, he said
that people were visiting to see more of the
tradition of freedom and democracy in Europe. He
believed that student exchanges and closer
connections between academic institutions would
encourage the youth, who were the key to building
long lasting partnerships and understanding between the EU and China.
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