Examination of Witnesses (Questions 389
WEDNESDAY 6 MAY 2009
Mr Robert Cooper
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.
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?
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
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.
The opportunities and challenges of cooperation with China on
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 Councilthis is my impressionsometimes
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.
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
That is obvious, yes.
Mr Cooper: Yes it would be a good model, but
let us have it work first.
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.