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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400 - 419)


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 dialogue?

  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 of paper.

  Mr Cooper: It probably goes a bit beyond my area of expertise.

  Chairman: It sounded very authoritative, Lord Jay!

  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 Asian partners?

  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 concerned about.

  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 in Afghanistan.

  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 saying—I cannot remember the exact words—something 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.

  Q412  Chairman: 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 area?

  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.

  Q413  Chairman: 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.

  Q414  Chairman: 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.

  Q415  Chairman: 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 more cooperation.

  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 goods.

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