Stars and Dragons: The EU and China - European Union Committee Contents


China on the global stage: ambitious to rise but reluctant to commit

94.  China is one of the five Permanent Members (P 5) of the UN Security Council. It is a member of other international organisations but, significantly, given its recent emergence as a major economic player, is under-represented in international financial organisations[43]. Dr Brown commented that this accounted for China's reluctance to help in IMF bailouts (QQ 42-43).

95.  Professor Breslin agreed that the structures of the major financial institutions were based on a balance of power from a different age. Demand had grown in China for reform of voting power in the IMF and World Bank and for an end to the dominance of the dollar as a global reserve currency, to reflect the growing significance of Chinese financial power, foreign reserve holding and overseas currency accounts. The Chinese were reluctant to bail out the West, though they wanted western growth given the importance of western consumers (Q 187).

96.  Isabel Hilton thought that the Chinese were "joining a world in which all the rules were made by us essentially," and trying to find their place. China was evolving into a responsible international player, although more slowly than many would wish (Q 88). Professor Godement commented, however, that China was not yet contributing much to the international order and was leaving to the industrialised countries the burden of enforcement (Q 589).

97.  Charles Grant told us that China had never taken a leadership role in global governance but had seen itself as a developing country exploited by developed countries. The Europeans had to help the Chinese understand that they were now at the world's top table. The Chinese were afraid of responsibility, did not want to join the G8 and worried that, if they did, they would have to deliver painful outcomes on climate change involving more aid to developing countries. "They are a kind of adolescent: they know they are growing up … but they do not want to do the things that adults have to do." The G20 was a good forum in which to encourage the Chinese to take responsibility for global governance. The rules in the International Energy Agency should be changed to encourage the Chinese to join (QQ 93, 102).

98.  Dr Bates Gill (Stockholm International Peace Research Institute) saw China emerging as a responsible stakeholder. On non-proliferation, peacekeeping and arms transfers it had taken decisions which were converging with other major actors, especially the US and the EU. China realised that, as an increasingly globalised player, it had a strategic stake in assuring that regional and international problems were dealt with. The trends were right, but it remained to be seen how far China was prepared to go (Q 630).

99.  Professor Callahan saw in some Chinese thinking an emerging interest in imperial concepts that placed China at the centre of the world and saw China as superior to the western value-based world. China was currently pursuing parallel policies of engaging with the West and multilateral organisations, and of following a separate path as a leader in Asia, Africa and Latin America (QQ 146, 147). Dr Steve Tsang (Oxford University) commented that the political system in China, which he described as "consultative Leninism," was the key to understanding the Chinese government's approach to the rest of the world. The government was currently focused on domestic stability and it was impossible to foresee its longer-term intentions on the international stage. It was likely at times to accommodate nationalist sentiments by tactically putting aside its "peaceful rise policy". This uncertainty provided a "particularly strong case" for the EU to adopt a policy of engagement with China (pp 320-3)

100.  China's quest for natural resources is a major driver of its foreign and commercial policy (see Chapter 9). Professor Shambaugh noted four principal goals of China's foreign policy:

  • maintaining stable relations with other major powers, particularly the United States;
  • peaceful relations with China's neighbours;
  • securing access to foreign technology, capital and markets; and
  • contributing to global governance while attempting to redress perceived inequities in the international system.

He agreed with our other witnesses that China's external policies were largely oriented towards furthering its internal development (p 307).

101.  We asked who made foreign policy, particularly on the EU. Professor Song said that the Foreign Ministry undertook the basic daily work of formulating foreign policy but most important strategic decisions were made by the Politburo or the Standing Committee. Premier Wen Jiabao focussed more on Europe and President Hu Jintao on the US, though the division of responsibilities was not clear. The Americans had a "hotline"; the Europeans did not. The 1985 EU-China Agreement had specified the Ministry of Commerce as the lead department for EU-China programmes or agreements, rather than the Foreign Ministry (QQ 482, 484, 486).

102.  The basic governmental decision-making structure comprised a small group which limited the role of think-tanks and universities. Few people knew how the 2008 postponement of the EU-China summit had been decided. The role of think-tanks was increasing but they were difficult to define: the China Institute of International Studies and the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, for example, were basically governmental institutions and had a channel to the top leaders. Universities too were now more active and European Studies had developed over the past 10-15 years with some 30 research centres, mostly in universities. Professor Song's institution produced policy reports which sometimes differed from the Government's views, but in most cases the Government sought its views. Experts were occasionally invited to meet the President, but mainly to discuss US-related policy. The role of public opinion was not strong but was increasing through newspapers, especially local newspapers, and through the internet (QQ 482, 484, 486).

103.  The EU should accept China's wish for greater representation in international organisations, and especially financial institutions, commensurate with its increased economic weight. At the same time, the EU should emphasise in its dialogue with China that China cannot commit only to those institutions and agreements that fulfil its perceived national interests, and that it is in China's real interest to increase its commitment to upholding the rule of law and maintaining international stability, alongside other major nations.

Non-interference and the UN umbrella

104.  China has consistently promoted the concept of non-interference in the internal affairs of others and the role played by the UN as "a multilateral actor to help bring development and stability to the world." It believed a stronger UN role, where it had a bigger voice, was in its interests (Gill[44] Q 634). Vice-Minister Zhang[45] maintained that China had a greater awareness of the position of smaller, weaker countries than large powers, who should respect the feelings of smaller countries.

105.  Professor Callahan thought the Chinese position on non-interference was influenced by their own situation and their historical relations with Japan and Europe. Some Chinese saw parallels between Kosovo and Xinjiang (Q 155). Ambassador Chen[46] said that China shared with developing countries a concern for national sovereignty due to its experiences. China would make a contribution to international peace and security whilst defending the principle of non-interference, and would always favour persuasion rather than coercion. This would complement the actions of the US in a kind of pull and push effect.

106.  Robert Cooper[47] thought that the "the general behaviour of China as an international actor historically has been striking for its responsibility … What they will do when they have become larger and stronger we do not know, but by the standards of history they are a remarkably responsible power." They had made particular efforts to reassure their neighbours in Asia (Q 392).

107.  Isabel Hilton, however, thought that non-interference was rhetorical; China's attitudes were slowly changing, reflecting China's long-term interests (Q 133, see also Grant Q 143). Human Rights Watch, commenting on how Chinese diplomats often blocked UN Security Council resolutions on sanctions against offenders, such as Burma, noted that in two situations on which the EU had engaged China at the highest level[48] China had been willing to show support or abstain (p 304).

108.  Stephen Lillie told us that the international community had expanded its dialogue with China on international issues because China's overseas investments had increased its external interests. Intensive dialogue took place between the EU, as well as individual countries, and China where China could exercise its economic influence in helpful ways. In general China did not favour sanctions in any situation and would always emphasise dialogue (Q 21).

Chinese involvement in peacekeeping and countering piracy

109.  Stephen Lillie told us that China was the largest supplier of peacekeeping troops amongst the P5 (Q 21)[49]. Professor Mitter told us that, where possible, China tried to take part in multilateral political and military operations that enabled it to be present without seeming assertive. The presence of their military engineers in peacekeeping operations was a useful symbol that China wished to take part in international endeavours. China would probably continue to use its economic power and project a peaceful image rather than using its military capabilities in an assertive way. "Responsibility to protect[50]" was a troubling term for the Chinese as it seemed to spell liberal intervention, which they opposed. Their participation in peacekeeping operations suggested, however, that there was some flexibility in their position (Q 155).

110.  Dr Gill said that there was "great praise and appreciation" from the UN for China's contribution to peacekeeping in Haiti, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Liberia. The Chinese were disciplined, hard-working and making important contributions in certain areas: medical missions, transport and engineering. In the DRC they had supplied all the logistical needs of the UN operation. The next step, which China had so far avoided, would be to contribute combat troops (QQ 631-2, 635). Robert Cooper told us that he had asked the Chinese whether they might at some stage join an ESDP operation; they were thinking about it (Q 410).

111.  Charles Grant thought that Chinese naval involvement in combating Somali piracy was an example of China's becoming a more responsible global stakeholder (Q 95). According to Professor Song, China had a clear interest in protecting its overseas economic interests and Chinese citizens. This had been debated in the last 4-5 years, as had the question whether China should send ships so far away. The leadership still worried about how the outside world perceived this kind of action, the "China threat", and preferred to keep a low profile in the international arena (Q 503). Dr Brown commented that China had become very proactive. They had sent 3,000 peacekeepers to the Sudan through the UN, though it was not clear whether this was to protect the considerable Chinese assets or concealed some bigger geopolitical ambition (Q 82).

112.  Dr Gill thought that the increased contribution to UN peacekeeping and the deployment of three ships patrolling the Gulf of Aden had been the two most important projections of Chinese military power in recent years. "China has never, in its contemporary history, projected its naval forces so far and for so long. They are demonstrating the capacity" (Q 602). China's construction contracts in the Indian Ocean should, however, not be interpreted as a deliberate programme of strategic projection. Like other nations in peacetime, China relied on normal commercial forms of logistical support. In the event of war, it would be very unlikely that the same countries with which China had commercial agreements would offer safe harbour and supply to Chinese military vessels (Q 606).

113.  China looks to the UN as the framework for conducting international affairs. However, its policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries has at times hindered the effectiveness of the UN in dealing with conflicts and abuses of human rights in countries such as Burma. There are signs that this is changing, mainly because of China's increasing need for stability in the world as its economic interests drive it further afield in search of resources. The EU should demonstrate to the Chinese that good governance leads to the stability in which they and the EU have a mutual interest.

114.  China has provided non-combat troops and significant logistical support to UN peacekeeping operations. The EU should encourage China along this path and urge them also to contribute combat troops. The EU should also explore whether China could assist the EU with logistical support for its missions in Africa and Asia.

115.  Chinese projection of naval forces to protect its shipping from Somali piracy is significant as a demonstration of capacity and as an acknowledgement that its domestic concerns can best be served in cooperation with others. Further cooperation with the EU's Operation Atalanta should be encouraged.

116.  We note that Chinese efforts to establish port facilities in a number of countries in the Indian Ocean appear to be primarily motivated by commercial considerations. The EU should accept that these are a normal part of the expansion of China's regional economic relations and do not represent an attempt to change the strategic balance in the Indian Ocean at this time.

G2, G20 and the triangular EU-US-China relationship

117.  We asked our witnesses for their views on the possible emergence of a US-China G2. Isabel Hilton thought that, on an informal basis, this was "a very powerful partnership in which there are very strong mutual interests," in stabilising the world economy and climate change. Under President Obama the dialogue was opening up, but both sides recognised that the global dialogue was what counted (Q 108). Other witnesses also thought that the Chinese would not accept the concept of a G2 (Song QQ 491, 492, Ash, Breslin QQ 192, 208, 209). Matthew Baldwin[51] thought the jury was out on the G2, but the role the Chinese played in the 2009 G20 meeting showed that China had a stake in geopolitical stability (QQ 316, 320). Lord Mandelson and DfID Minister Gareth Thomas MP confirmed that China had become an important player in the G20 (Q 535). Professor Breslin thought, however, that the Chinese would prefer participation in an expanded G8 as the G20 appeared "too big and … diverse to be able to make the decisions that will affect them" (Q 192).

118.  For Professor Callahan, the US was a constant factor in the EU-China relationship (Q 176). Dr Gill thought that resolution of most of the major global challenges would need cooperation between the EU or major EU states, the US and China (QQ 614-616). Professor Feng[52] believed that China's problem might be that relations with the EU moved closer only when the transatlantic relationship was difficult. By contrast, Charles Grant thought that problems in the EU-China relationship reduced when China and America got on well; conversely bad China-US relations led to divisions among the Europeans because some European governments wanted to keep America happy (QQ 108, 109). Lord Mandelson warned that the EU should not be played off against the US as they had similar if not identical values and interests (QQ 723-724).

China's growing interest and engagement in its region


119.  Professor Breslin described the change in China's policy towards the East Asia region as "astonishing". Until recently China had not had diplomatic relations with a number of states and believed that the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN[53]) was an ally of the US, hostile to Chinese interests (Q 211). Robert Cooper, too, had observed the change in the way China dealt with other Asian countries; they were readier to discuss security matters than 10-15 years previously and now worked actively in ASEAN and ASEAN+3 (China, Japan and South Korea) (Q 407). Professor Song told us that "China's major strategic concern is the neighbourhood policy"—its neighbours, regional security and Taiwan (Q 489). Charles Grant thought the Chinese were more sympathetic to regional than global governance, which they were better able to dominate, and in which America was not involved. They therefore favoured the ASEAN+3 format and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (QQ 113, 116).

120.  While the EU accounts for 17% of China's foreign trade, East Asia (defined as the 10 ASEAN countries, plus Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong SAR and Taiwan) together account for more than 40% of China's trade (Song Q 510). Professor Ash commented that China's trade with ASEAN, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan put together was greater than its trade with the US (Q 211).

121.  The EU works with Asia in the ASEM[54] (Asia Europe Meeting). Charles Grant did not think the meetings held in this forum achieved much (QQ 113, 116). However, James Moran, in Brussels, told us that common ground had been found with China in ASEM, particularly on the financial crisis. The EU cooperated with ASEAN and SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation). It followed the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation closely but was not formally associated (QQ 351, 352). Professor Mitter thought it unlikely that China would tie itself down into any one set of alliances, or that there would be a special relationship between China and any other entity or body. This was an opportunity as well as a problem for the EU (Q 170).

122.  Professor Callahan told us that China had worked to settle border disputes with Russia, the Central Asian states and Vietnam. A dispute with India remained but was being pursued in a non-violent way. The general trend had been towards using diplomacy rather than warfare (Q 157). However, the Chinese-Indian dispute has recently become more active over the Chinese claim that the state of Arunachal Pradesh in the Himalayan region of North East India is part of China (see Appendix 9).

123.  China's trade and political relationships with the countries in East Asia have intensified in recent years. China is now a major regional player. The EU should note the increasing role of China in the region and engage in more frequent consultations with regional powers about China's role. The EU should explore ways in which to develop ASEM as a major forum for dialogue and cooperation between European and Pacific Asian countries.


124.  On Iran, the EU 3 (UK, France, Germany) work with China as well as the US and Russia (the E3+3) in a group aimed at containing Iran's nuclear ambitions. Vice-Minister Liu Jieyi[55] told us that China welcomed this cooperation and Professor Jin[56] thought that the EU and China shared a common interest in the nuclear hot-spot of Iran. Stephen Lillie also said China shared the same ultimate objective as the EU in not wanting to see a nuclear-armed Iran (Q 21). Robert Cooper (Director General, EU Council of Ministers, who chaired a New York meeting of the E3+3 in January 2010[57]) told us he had tried to persuade the Chinese that the EU and China shared a similar need for stability in the Middle East, not compatible with Iranian nuclear weapons; they had extensive commercial interests in Iran and were not enthusiastic about sanctions (Q 395). Charles Grant said that China did not like the pressure the West was forcing them to put on Iran, but had nonetheless signed up to three rounds of sanctions so far (QQ 113, 116).

125.  Unlike China, the EU is not involved directly in the six-party talks on North Korea[58]. However, Dr Gill thought some Member States with an active diplomatic presence played a role providing information, insight and understanding to allies about developments in North Korea (Q 612).

126.  Lord Patten of Barnes thought the EU should put greater pressure on the Chinese over regional stability. On Burma the Chinese had concluded that the junta was more likely to provide stability than any democratic elections. They had, however, "in a quiet way" tried to encourage political change (Q 560). Lord Mandelson agreed that China exercised its influence in a welcome way (Q 720). Isabel Hilton believed that China had moved a little on Burma. She was unsure if this was due to EU high-level engagement (QQ 95, 98, 117, 118). Robert Cooper thought that China was concerned about the possibility of Burma's becoming even more of a failed state than it was at present. Perhaps China would be best engaged by focussing more on the risks emanating from the country than on human rights questions (Q 409).

127.  China's performance is improving on non-proliferation and arms transfers as it increasingly appreciates that it has a strategic stake in regional and international stability. The EU should encourage China along this path in collaboration with the US which will remain China's principal interlocutor on non-proliferation issues. The EU should also seek China's support in other arms control measures, such as engagement in the EU Strategy on Small Arms and Light Weapons, where it can also play an important role.

128.  China and the EU share non-proliferation objectives in Iran and North Korea, but China has a different approach. In Iran it has economic interests to protect and it dislikes sanctions in principle. The EU should persuade China that it is in its interests to engage seriously in joint actions as part of the E3+3 (UK, France, Germany, US, Russia, China). In North Korea the EU, which has no direct role in discussions, should encourage China to continue to play a leading role in the talks, despite its fears of possible instability on its border if the regime were to change suddenly.


129.  China and the EU share a common concern about stability and terrorism in two of China's near neighbours, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where China has invested heavily. Professor Jin[59] thought that the EU and China shared a common interest in security in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Professor Godement told us that the Chinese had invested US$3 billion in the world's second-largest copper mine in Afghanistan and coalition troops were defending it (QQ 590, 598). Isabel Hilton agreed that China was a long-time ally of Pakistan and had made enormous infrastructural investments including a deep water port and pipelines. Therefore the Taliban and destabilisation in Pakistan were a concern (QQ 95, 98, 117, 118).

130.  Professor Godement thought that China might be prepared to cooperate with the Allies if it thought there was a grave threat to Pakistan's integrity in the future; if the regime toppled, it "would be a catastrophe" for China. However, he was sceptical about potential cooperation on counter-terrorism unless Chinese interests were directly threatened. China had been able to contain terrorism from Pakistan and Afghanistan and was never mentioned in Al Qaeda literature. On the other hand "China has set itself up very cleverly after 2001 as another victim of terrorism" (QQ 590, 598). Dr Gill told us that China was concerned that Afghanistan and potentially other central and south-western Asian countries could become homes for separatist movements in its own north-west Muslim regions. China would be reluctant to take proactive and high profile positions, but "needs to be a more active partner in our thinking about this region" (Q 613).

131.  Vice-Minister Liu confirmed the Chinese view that China was the victim of terrorism and supported counter-terrorist activities, though there should be a single standard for what was a terrorist anywhere in the world[60]. Ambassador Chen[61] also thought that some in the West had double standards: terrorist actions in China were not described as such, which threatened the international consensus. Lord Patten of Barnes believed the Chinese would wish to avoid getting drawn into a global debate on Islam because of their concern about the position of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang (see Chapter 8) (Q 560).

132.  China and the EU share concerns about stability and terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan where China also has a considerable economic stake. The EU should explore the potential for sharing information and even intelligence with China on both countries, and on insurgency and terrorism, recognising that there will be problems reaching common definitions of, and responses to, terrorism.

43   IMF figures give 3.66% of voting rights for China, compared with US 16.77%, Japan 6.02%, UK 4.85%, France 4.85%, Germany 5.88%. Back

44   Dr Bates Gill, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). Back

45   Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Beijing, Appendix 4. Back

46   Renmin University, Beijing, Appendix 4. Back

47   Director General for External and Politico-Military Affairs, Council of the EU, Appendix 4. Back

48   Security Council resolution 1593 of 2005 referring Darfur to the International Criminal Court and resolutions on the Middle East. Back

49   See Appendix 6 for details of China's contribution to peace-keeping. Back

50   This concept, adopted by the UN in 2005, holds that states have a responsibility to protect their own populations from genocide, crimes against humanity and other threats; and that if a state is unable or unwilling to do so, the international community has the obligation to take action, including through the use of military force as a last resort and if appropriate. Back

51   Then a member of President Barroso's Cabinet. Back

52   Chinese Institute for Contemporary International Relations, Beijing, Appendix 4. Back

53   ASEAN nations: Brunei Darussalam, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam. Back

54   The ASEM was established in 1996 and currently comprises the 27 EU countries and the Commission, and Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and the ASEAN Secretariat. Back

55   International Department of the Communist Party, Beijing, Appendix 4. Back

56   Renmin University, Beijing, Appendix 4. Back

57   The Times, 18 January 2010, reported that China had sent a junior diplomat to meet the Political Directors of the other five, and had blocked a new round of sanctions against Iran.  Back

58   The six-party talks bring together China, South Korea, North Korea, the US, Russia and Japan. Back

59   Renmin University, Beijing, Appendix 4. Back

60   Beijing, as above, Appendix 4. Back

61   Renmin University, Beijing, Appendix 4. Back

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