Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400
WEDNESDAY 6 MAY 2009
Mr Robert Cooper
Q400 Lord Jay of Ewelme:
Just extending that, I think you said on the whole China's foreign
policy was not seen as problematic by EU Member States. I wonder
if you would include Africa in that. We had rather a good session
with Louis Michel's Cabinet just now which talked about the developmental
side of that. I am not talking so much about differences in developmental
policy but the risk of Chinese pursuit of economic self-interest
in, say, Sudan, Zimbabwe, conflicting with what would be generally
seen as Western attempts to push good governance and perhaps even
conflict prevention. Do you see conflict there potentially?
Mr Cooper: Conflict would be too strong a word.
That comes a little bit into what I meant when I said that it
probably takes time. This part of China's relationship with Africa
has developed very rapidly as their economy has developed very
rapidly. I am not sure they have had an enormous amount of experience
of working in Africa on the different projects that they have.
I suspect that after a while they may encounter problems which
are similar to ours. It is true that we approach Africa in a rather
altruistic spirit, but some of our countries have a history of
quite dramatic exploitation in Africa so I think we ought to be
a bit cautious about being over-critical of China because there
are one or two replies that they could very easily make to that.
However, it would make much better sense for us to work together
when we can.
Q401 Lord Jay of Ewelme:
Is it an area where you think there is scope for a sensible EU-China
Mr Cooper: Yes.
Q402 Lord Jay of Ewelme:
A return to a scramble for Africa based on resources is not really
a sensible way.
Mr Cooper: No. There is scope in all of these
areas first for dialogue but in the end for cooperation. It would
be very good for China to see itself as having a stake in the
orderly development of Africa and African resources and it would
be very good for China to understand they would be better served
probably by well-regulated markets in raw materials rather than
feeling that they have to own things themselves. If we can increase
their confidence that the international system works for them,
as I think they have understood in the WTO, that would be the
best solution to the problem.
Q403 Lord Jay of Ewelme:
I was going to come on to that. I was struck by what you said
about the WTO. Do you think there are other international fora,
for example in the no-proliferation or disarmament field, where
the Chinese do now believe that sort of cooperation would be in
their interests, or is there still work to be done there?
Mr Cooper: In the area of proliferation I think
the Chinese behaviour today is very different from what it was
a few years ago. They are much more cautious about what they export.
It is clear also that the Chinese Government listens to what other
people are saying, although they do not always respond immediately.
For example, in Sudan, although their policy has not been the
same as ours, you can see at different stages how they have modified
their policy in response to international concern.
Q404 Lord Jay of Ewelme:
Just one final question. Is there anything the EU can do to encourage
China to sign up to the Arms Trade Treaty on conventional weapons?
It is a bit beyond my area of expertise but it is on my piece
Mr Cooper: It probably goes a bit beyond my
area of expertise.
Chairman: It sounded very authoritative,
Q405 Lord Jay of Ewelme:
Thank you very much, my Lord Chairman.
Mr Cooper: I think if we were to do that the
Chinese would probably come back to the question of the arms embargo
and say, "What, you are asking us to sign a Treaty on Arms
Trade when you are refusing to trade with us".
Q406 Lord Hamilton of Epsom:
They certainly have a very robust black market in things like
anti-personnel mines. In fact, they have a monopoly on them as
everybody else has given them up.
Mr Cooper: Yes.
Q407 Lord Crickhowell:
Could you comment on China's role in the Far East generally: counter-terrorism
and counter-insurgency, especially Afghanistan and Pakistan, relations
with East Asia, and foreign and security relationships with other
Mr Cooper: This is not an area that I am a big
expert on. I would have difficulty in putting a date on it. I
was involved a bit with China in the late 1990s when I was working
on this in the Foreign Office and coming back and now seeing it
a little more distantly it seems to me there has been quite a
change in the way China deals with other Asian countries in that
they are much more ready to discuss security matters. That is
far from joining in widespread confidence-building measures, but
ten or 15 years ago they simply would not have discussed these
questions at all. Now they rather actively work in the groupings
that form around ASEAN and ASEAN Plus Three, and there is another
group which has formed itself, China, Japan and Korea. These are
not groups which deal with hard security, they are not alliances,
but they discuss political questions in Asia. They do not provide
all the reassurance that China's neighbours would like but they
are at least a form of political communication. I think one would
also say that the Chinese seem to me in the last couple of years
to have made quite striking efforts to improve their relationship
with Japan. I am not sure if I can prove this, but I can remember
being in Japan just after the visit of Wen Jiabiao and he very
clearly went out of his way to go beyond the normal protocol things
and was trying to present a more human face in Japan. This was
at a time when there were still continuing difficulties with Japan
over visits to the Yasukini Shrine and things like that. My impression
at the time at any rate, I think it was either at the end of the
Koizumi period or just after when relations had been rather difficult,
was that it was the Chinese who were trying to put the relations
back on the rails in a political sense. The Japanese have since
responded to that because both Abe and Aso have seen the relationship
with China as being a priority. That is on a political level.
On a military level there has been some small improvement in transparency
on the Chinese side but there is quite a long way to go. They
now publish figures for their defence budget. I think they described
their large display of naval power the other day as part of transparency.
I guess that is one way of looking at it. They can probably be
encouraged further in that direction.
Q408 Lord Crickhowell:
We heard earlier today that there are some signs of their moving
a bit on relations with Burma in a helpful way, but when I pressed
on whether there were any signs of their taking a real interest
in counter-terrorism and so on in Afghanistan and Pakistan I think
the answer I received was "no", yet here you have a
country right on their borders which you think they would be rather
Mr Cooper: Yes, actually they are. I do not
think that is completely accurate. They are concerned about Afghanistan
and Pakistan, not least because they have Muslim minorities themselves
and they fear infection. As I say, the Chinese point of view still
always tends to start in a rather realistic way with what might
have a direct impact on China. I believe they are concerned, but
I am not sure if they have translated that into policies which
exactly resemble ours. I believe they are a considerable donor
Q409 Lord Crickhowell:
Presumably if the new administration in the United States develops
a positive relationship with them this will be an area which the
United States will want to talk to them about because it is central
to their policy?
Mr Cooper: Yes. They are a neighbour of Afghanistan
and probably the country with the most consistent long-term relationship
with Pakistan and potentially an important source of influence
in Pakistan. It seems to me that China is important to both of
those. On Burma, we have also noticed that the Chinese have moved
from the traditional Chinese position of saying they are not interested
in the internal affairs of other countries to sayingI cannot
remember the exact wordssomething a little bit different
now on Burma. My guess is that they are concerned about the possibility
of Burma becoming even more of a failed state than it is at the
moment. Perhaps the best way to engage China on a country like
Burma is less to focus on the human rights questions and more
to focus on the risks that a country which is as disastrously
run as Burma has. It can be a place where bird flu can incubate
or a place where drugs and other forms of disorder can affect
China. That is probably where their concern lies.
Q410 Lord Hamilton of Epsom:
Just to return to Pakistan and the growing nervousness that it
is a failed state. I think there was an American General saying
quite recently it was going to implode in a matter of weeks. Do
you think that is likely to happen and, if it did, would China
stand back or would it go in in some form?
Mr Cooper: First, I do not think it is likely.
Pakistan is a very resilient place. I think the best news in Pakistan
is that they are becoming worried themselves and you can see them
taking action. Whether that is going to work or not, I do not
know. There are large areas of Pakistan which have never been
under the control of any government, including the British Government,
but if you are in places like Karachi and Lahore then I am always
struck by the remarkable vibrancy and solidity of civil society,
not in the sense of NGOs but of business and those kinds of people.
First, I do not think Pakistan is going to collapse just like
that, although there are lots of reasons for concern. Second,
I do not think the Chinese think in terms of sending the PLA in
to rescue other countries and I am sure that their Asian neighbours
would be very distressed if they saw China behaving like that.
The Chinese are relatively large contributors now to UN peacekeeping
forces and that seems a positive thing. It would be much more
sensible to encourage them to operate in those kinds of frameworks.
Once or twice I have asked the Chinese whether they might be interested
at some stage in joining the ESDP operation and they are thinking
about that. The nearest they have come to that is there is a Chinese
ship somewhere off the Somali coast which I believe cooperates
with other navies, as navies do, and there is good communication
between them and the other naval forces there, including the EU
force run from Northwood.
Q411 Lord Crickhowell:
You have been giving us, and I love it as a rather second rate
historian, your historical perspective of China, but can I ask
questions about it from the other end, the approach of the European
policy. We have heard elsewhere and seen so often that there is
an ability to perhaps play off the approaches of individual Member
States in the Community, particularly the larger ones, against
perhaps the wider EU one. We did a report on Russia recently where
we found that Russia was particularly good at that on energy issues
and so on. Is this a problem for the EU in developing the CFSP?
Is there a difficulty in the attempt of other countries, and China
in this context particularly, to exploit our differences or do
you find that is not a problem?
Mr Cooper: Oh no, we provide endless opportunities
for people to do that. Of course, there is always a range of views.
If you put 27 countries round a table it is not a surprise that
they have different interests and points of view. The question
is whether there is a sufficient feeling of solidarity and sufficient
common interest that can be defined and everybody solves the prisoner's
dilemma that you get more out of cooperative behaviour than trying
to make private gains as individuals. Sometimes we succeed and
sometimes we fail. In China the EU trade policy has worked relatively
well. In foreign affairs it is not that we have issues of enormous
weight in dealing with China, there are not things that engage
Europe as a whole. If you ask what are the things that are top
of the European agenda in dealing with China at the moment people
would probably say, number one, financial crisis and, number two,
climate change. On those, particularly on climate change where
policy is rather better defined, there is a very solid European
position. Also, there are very important Chinese interests like
their development and there is going to be a very tough multilateral
bargain. That is not an absolutely clear answer. I do not find
the accusation that China plays us off against each other to be
the central feature of relationships with China.
Moving on to broader areas, the arms embargo, one of the things
that I have sometimes heard said is that when Europe failed to
remove the arms embargo under American pressure then China no
longer took the EU seriously following that. Where do you see
the issue of the arms embargo going? In terms of transparency
of military expenditure and that area, and the cross-strait relations
between China and Taiwan, has Europe anything to offer in that
Mr Cooper: To come back just a second to the
last question, in some ways I think China would probably prefer
a stronger EU. The Chinese world view has always been that they
would rather not be alone with the United States and would not
mind having a stronger European Union, it would be a little bit
easier for them to deal with 27 countries and they would not mind
having a European Union that was a bit more independent of the
USA. I do not think the Chinese see splitting the European Union
as being a fundamental policy goal. There are times when you can
see Chinese behaviour that looks as though they are deliberately
one EU member, but broadly speaking the Chinese, for a country
on the other side of the world, think the European Union is a
good thing. Now I have forgotten your question.
The arms embargo and the cross-strait question and transparency
of military expenditure.
Mr Cooper: We never really got to the US pressure
because we never got very close to lifting the arms embargo. It
was always clear from the debates within the European Union that
there would not be a consensus for lifting the arms embargo unless
there was some improvement in the area of human rights. The arms
embargo was imposed at the time of Tiananmen Square and the idea
of lifting it while people who had been arrested at Tiananmen
Square were still in prison was probably unattractive to a number
of Member States. Some have linked this specifically to Chinese
ratification of the protocol on civil and political rights, ICCPR.
For that reason, removing the arms embargo never really became
likely. If it had, at that point I have no doubt there would have
been a strong reaction from the United States and Japan as well.
Actually, the reaction would have been a mistake because the so-called
arms embargo is a single sentence in the conclusions of a meeting
just following Tiananmen Square and has no legal status and no
clear definition. We have much more focused and effective legislation
and the common position has legal force on arms exports generally
which covers arms exports to China. Not just arms exports to China,
it covers exports of all kinds of sensitive goods to China, things
like numerically controlled machine tools which can be used in
defence industries. That is much more important than tanks and
planes. Supposing China were to ratify the ICCPR then I think
the question would come back on the agenda and no doubt there
would be US pressure. I can understand why the Chinese think it
is inappropriate that they should be placed in the same category
as Burma and Zimbabwe.
The transparency on military expenditure and the cross-strait
question, have we anything to offer there?
Mr Cooper: Cross-strait relations are one of
the things that the Chinese care about very much. There are many
points, but it is one of the things in which we have a serious
interest too. Although it is far away from us, the disruption
of a conflict across the strait would be enormous.
Absolutely. The insurance policy is the American fleet rather
than anything to do with Europe, is it not, at the present moment?
Mr Cooper: Yes, although one can never exclude
being dragged into things that you think are somebody else's business.
The best insurance policy is developing political and commercial
people-to-people exchanges which at the moment you would have
to say is going rather well. I ought to have checked up on this
but I forgot. I know that the cross-strait flights have been liberalised
and I think they are now liberalising cross-strait investment
rules. I am sure somebody has already given you the numbers of
Taiwanese living in China and going to Chinese universities. Now
what is going to happen is there is going to be more flow in the
other direction as well. All of that seems to us to be the best
possible way of ensuring that cross-strait relations remain stable.
Q416 Lord Crickhowell:
If you move from the arms embargo to technological cooperation,
America has been unhappy about some aspects of that, particularly
space technology, where there is probably great potential for
Europe for useful cooperation. There are obviously areas, things
like clean coal and so on, where we are all going forward. Is
there a difficulty with the American approach to technological
cooperation on things like space or is this something that you
are quite relaxed about?
Mr Cooper: Is China a partner in Galileo? I
ought to know. They were at one stage. I am not sure if this is
on your agenda. I can check up and let you know. At one stage
at any rate I know China was a potential partner in Galileo, but
I am not quite sure where that stands at the moment.
Q417 Lord Crickhowell:
I think there has been some modest cooperation but, as I understand
it, it is an area which has come under some critical scrutiny
from the United States. Some believe that this is an area of great
potential for both Europe and China if we could get on with some
Mr Cooper: It is not an area that I am familiar
with, as you see from my half-baked answer.
Q418 Lord Hamilton of Epsom:
Should we not have more sympathy for the United States? It was
not that long ago that they were getting very near to conflict
over Taiwan and, as we know, there is so much technology now which
has been developed in the non-military sector which is very easily
transferable to the military one. I think the chances of a conflict
between the United States and China have receded but are still
not completely ruled out and in that case I think I would be rather
nervous if I thought I was going to be faced by defence technology
that would kill my people.
Mr Cooper: It is precisely for that reason that
we have the arms export common position. As I mentioned, there
are a number of items which we do not sell to China, which are
things like machine tools.
Q419 Lord Hamilton of Epsom:
I get the impression you would rather like to reverse all this.
Mr Cooper: No, on the contrary, I think it is
reasonable to be cautious. One of the specific provisions in the
arms export position refers to items which could adversely affect
the position of allies and there was consultation with the US
about what we do and do not sell to China in the area of dual-use