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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 389 - 399)


Mr Robert Cooper

  Q389  Chairman:Thank you very much for your time. I have never sat across from anybody with the words "Politico-Military" in their job title before. It sounds dangerous!

  Mr Cooper: It is only the beginning of the job title. The job title was negotiated by a committee and has got another line to it.

  Q390  Chairman: Perhaps I can go through the way this works, a bit like a health warning or whatever. As you know, the meeting will be recorded and transcribed. We will send you a copy of that and if there is anything you feel is not right then you will have an opportunity to change that. If there is anything during the session where you would rather go off the record and give more detail then that is fine, as long as you tell us when you are back on the record again. The trouble with being off the record is we cannot use it as evidence, although sometimes it is obviously useful background to us. As you know, this is part of an inquiry on EU-China and we hope that will be published in the autumn, so we have some other witnesses to see yet.

  Mr Cooper: I take it that you are seeing other people in Brussels as well?

  Q391  Chairman: Yes. We have seen people in the Commission on external affairs and the development side. After this we are seeing Commissioner Ashton and a number of people tomorrow. I think you have seen copies of the sorts of questions we intend to ask and there will be supplementaries to those. Is there any short statement you would like to make beforehand or go straight into questions?

  Mr Cooper: I think I had better wait for the questions.

  Q392  Chairman: Starting off on a broader point, it is really asking what you see as the opportunities and challenges of cooperation with China on foreign and security policy and the idea of a "responsible international stakeholder". What is the evidence to suggest it is moving in that direction and what are the implications for the European Union?

  Mr Cooper: I will answer the second part first because, in a way, it is easier. The general behaviour of China as an international actor historically has been striking for its responsibility. If you look at the history of rising powers, Britain in the, I do not know, 16th, 17th century, the Netherlands, France later on, Germany at the beginning of the 20th century, Japan, the USA as well at different times, on the whole they have been aggressive and difficult and the Chinese seem to have made a studied attempt to reassure. 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. It may be part of the reason for that is that they find themselves in the advantageous position of being a permanent member of the Security Council, so whereas others have had to kind of fight their way into the international community, they are already at the top table. We have also been intelligent in our dealing with China in that being a member of the WTO has been of a lot of advantage to China and they have discovered that the multilateral system can work rather well for them. What is striking in general is the efforts the Chinese have made particularly to reassure their neighbours in Asia. I do not think they have succeeded completely but it is remarkable that they try at all, as I say, compared with behaviour of what people normally do when they think that they are returning to the international stage in a big way. As a matter of fact, I believe, and there are others who know this better than me, the Politburo had a two-day session with historians lecturing them on the rise of great powers and this was such a success that they then made this into a TV series on Chinese television. Of course, it was all about China and they are very interested in that.

  Q393  Chairman: The opportunities and challenges of cooperation with China on foreign policy?

  Mr Cooper: This is a long-term story, the Chinese are still rather cautious. Cooperating with them is quite hard work. The Chinese are very focused on what are China's interests. They begin through the Security Council—this is my impression—sometimes to see things in a wider perspective but they do what countries have always done, which is to focus first of all on what matters to China. Speaking as a European, but I could also do the same as a British citizen, over time I think we have developed a wider view of what our interests are. The Chinese view of their interests tends to be more narrow, but it shows signs of developing. Development is rather rapid in China, things change rather quickly. The debates in China go on very quickly. Again, by historical standards their attitudes to foreign affairs have changed quite a lot. On the whole, speaking from the European point of view, the relationship in the pure foreign policy area is not a problematic one. I do not think people in Europe on the whole see China as threatening in any way. Sometimes the Pentagon studies list China as a possible threat, but on the whole I do not think European governments would think in those terms. The trade field is an area where there is scope for tension, but that depends a little bit on your attitude to trade. If you are a free trader then you would see China as producing more opportunities than threats.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for that.

  Q394  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: You said that cooperation with China is quite hard work. Does that extend to non-proliferation? Have the Chinese been any good with the business of leaning on Iran and their nuclear programme? Can the EU and China work together to address proliferation problems with North Korea and Pakistan?

  Mr Cooper: The place probably where the Chinese have been most active is North Korea. They have been one of the key actors in what progress there has been on North Korea. As you know, the progress on North Korea is a matter of one step forward, two steps back, sometimes that way round, sometimes the other way round. There is no doubt that the Chinese are the key to it and Chinese cooperation is central to that.

  Q395  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Because that is on their doorstep?

  Mr Cooper: Yes, that is on their doorstep. From the point of view of proliferation that is both positive and negative. It is positive in the sense that they really matter to North Korea but it is negative in the sense that they worry a great deal about North Korea. The last thing they want is to have the North Korean Government break down and floods of North Koreans come across their border, so they are very cautious in their dealings with it. Nevertheless, they, more than anyone else, are the people who can put pressure on North Korea but are generally not willing to put pressure on them in a way that would destabilise them. On Iran, the Chinese are sensible members of the Three Plus Three group that deals with Iran. They are not enthusiastic for sanctions. They have large commercial interests in Iran and their trade with Iran has indeed been growing. They are also an oil importer from the Middle East. I tell the Chinese that I think our interests are really very similar here. We have a very similar interest in the need for stability in the Middle East that is not compatible with Iranian nuclear weapons. I believe they have exactly the same interests as ours and I hope very much when push comes to shove they will understand their interests in the same way.

  Q396  Lord Hamilton of Epsom: Push comes to shove, what stage is that?

  Mr Cooper: That is the stage which I hope we do not reach. That is the stage when the attempt to reach a negotiated solution with Iran fails.

  Q397  Chairman: Does the EU Three Plus Three, which I suppose is the most obvious way of a close security relationship with China, provide a good model for the future or has it seemed to work well within limited expectations? What is the view?

  Mr Cooper: I think we will see is the answer to that. If it solves the problem then—

  Q398  Chairman: That is obvious, yes.

  Mr Cooper: Yes it would be a good model, but let us have it work first.

  Q399  Chairman: Clearly that is the right conclusion but I do not know whether they have pre-meetings before meetings. I was just trying to get under the skin of the attitude in terms of preparation or the work in progress of EU Three Plus Three. That is what I am really trying to get at.

  Mr Cooper: We see each other quite regularly. I know the Chinese colleague who operates on this group very well. Probably the Chinese and the Russians feel closer to each other than to the Europeans. This is a group which works pretty well on the whole. Actually, as I said, our perspective on the Middle East and the Chinese perspective logically ought to be very similar. We are both energy importing countries dependent on stability in the Middle East. That is a little bit different from the Russians, for example, and it is also a bit different from the USA which has got its own particular policies and stakes in the Middle East.

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