Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

It Is Time China to Repay Europe for its Success

Adelina Marini, February 21, 2012

Several relatively clear messages the European leaders - Herman Van Rompuy and Jose Manuel Barroso - conveyed during the EU-China summit in Beijing on February 14th and received several not less clear answers. Alas, neither the messages nor the answers are backed by concrete commitments, but given the history of Sino-European relations, based on the principle of mutual studying, what has been achieved in Beijing is not to be underestimated. And always when you pull the tail of the dragon you have to wait a while until the signal reaches his brain.

The messages

"We all know that over the past decades China has become an ever greater force in regional and global affairs. And its economic and social development has been immense. Europe can only rejoice with this success. And I also believe that Europe can legitimately claim some parts of the success because China's economy has greatly benefited from Europe's open policies and open markets. The economic relations are in fact a powerful reminder of how interconnected and interdependent we all are", was maybe the key message during the 14th summit between EU and China, conveyed by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso.

The key because it underscores very clearly something that is being raised as an issue within the EU as well - those who benefited and prospered thanks to the introduction of the euro and the deepening of the integration of the single market, are also those who should "repay" by helping their partners in trouble. This mantra is often repeated in terms of Germany, as Germany alone cannot handle the growing scale of the eurozone disaster and now it is China's turn to pay back.

The European leaders presented a kind of a report of what had been done up to the moment with the aim to solve the eurozone debt crisis, saying firmly a number of times that there will be a solution, that the eurozone will not only not break apart but the integration in the EU is going deeper. This, by the way, is another very important message, expressed again by President Barroso in response to a very long question of a Chinese journalist: "It is important for the Chinese people to understand one thing - the European integration is going deeper. There is progress in the EU integration, we are not going backwards. [...] The discussion in Europe is not at all about how are we going to reduce our common project. The discussion is all about how are we going to further integrate. And just recently 25 of the 27 member states agreed on a new treaty that will in fact establish what we can consider a way forward to a fiscal union - more convergence, more discipline. [...] And to complete the monetary union with a fiscal union and I believe in the future towards a political union".

From the joint news conference of Van Rompuy, Barroso and Chinese premier Wen Jiabao it became clear that the EU took a very restrained position regarding its specific needs for external help. To a question whether the EU leaders had asked for specific assistance and how China responded to it, President Van Rompuy answered that the EU welcomed the declaration PM Wen recently made and in which he announced that China would consider a deeper involvement in the European integration. "We take note of it and we welcome it", were the words of the former Belgian prime minister, who added: "It is up to China to make its own decisions in order to contribute to the stability of the eurozone. We agreed that we will consult and cooperate with each other in these matters".

The two leaders sent another very important message, which again was related to the debt crisis in the euro area and the growing social unrest and strikes that stem from it. Mr Barroso, without any uneasiness from the question, which seemed to contain a certain dose of scepticism about the successes of market economy and democracy, said: "This is normal in our societies where people have the right to protest". By the way, this is an important message that has heavy weight in the EU too, because of the growing fears that the crisis is undermining democracy.

The answers

The main part of China's answers are outlined in the joint declaration of the summit. There are several key elements which serve as a foundation for the future development of Sino-European relations. Out of 31 points under number 2 is written something that seems quite general but is in fact very important: "Both sides agreed to take a positive view of each other's development and render relevant support. China reaffirmed its continued support for the EU integration process. The EU side noted the sustained, steady and rapid growth of the Chinese economy as well as its important contribution to the global growth and reaffirmed its support for China's peaceful development and respect for China's sovereignty and territorial integrity". The latter part of the sentence is a clear statement that the EU is inclined not to play at any cost its principled support for Taiwan's right of independence from China, as well as for the way in which Beijing is imposing its rule in Tibet.

In the same time China is responding to the gesture by signing a request for some serious work on ensuring human rights. It was obvious, however, that the EU, as well as China, was not ready to give away at any price some things that could be used as leverage. Such was, for instance, the case with China's demand to receive a Market Economy Status. This was one of the questions, which Chinese journalists demonstrated great interest in during the brief news conference. Under number 10 in the joint declaration it is written that the leaders note the great importance of the work on solving the status issue "in a swift and comprehensive way". The EU leaders refused to say something more than this and President Van Rompuy just explained that this formulation was a clear signal of a political will to solve the issue. "It is not yet solved with this paragraph but the political will to search of a solution is present", he said.

With this 14th summit the beginning of something that is worth noting is put - the decision to conclude a Sino-European investment agreement "in substance", the purpose of which would be to promote and facilitate investments in both directions. The negotiations on such an agreement are yet to start and will include any questions of mutual interest. It has also been agreed to increase the people-to-people contacts. A first step in that direction is the two sides' readiness to work toward facilitating mobility of Chinese and European citizens, as in perspective a visa waiver will be discussed for the owners of Chinese diplomatic passports.

We can sum up that the EU-China summit this year ended with putting the cards on the table - the EU expects assistance from China to tackle the eurozone debt crisis and is ready to offer in exchange a market economy status, as well as not to raise the issue of "China's territorial integrity". China on its part is committing to a dialogue for human rights and in negotiations on an investment agreement, which means that it will have to open a little bit more its market for European firms and investments. Excluding that the euro area crisis requires an urgent solution, the other issues are a good basis for the development of the Sino-European relations. It is yet to see what the EU would agree to give away for the sake of urgency.