Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420
WEDNESDAY 6 MAY 2009
Mr Robert Cooper
Q420 Lord Jay of Ewelme:
I want to ask a question about the mechanics of EU leverage, if
you like. We talked a little bit about Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe.
I do not want to take a specific case, but let us assume a case
in which there is a general view that it would be good to exert
a degree of leverage or influence on the Chinese in a particular
area where interests diverged, the question is whether from an
EU point of view does that best come from the EU collectively
or from the major Member States individually, or a combination
of the two? To whom would the Chinese most be likely to listen?
Mr Cooper: If there was a strong united EU position
then they would listen to that. I do not think they would have
any difficulty in brushing aside one or two EU Member States,
even large ones. If it came to leverage, on the whole I do not
think people conceive a relationship with China in those terms,
but if it came to
Q421 Lord Jay of Ewelme:
Mr Cooper: If it came to leverage, that is the
point at which the Chinese might start trying to play people off
against each other. If one Member State did something on its own
then I am sure they would start finding they were being frozen
out of some markets. If there was something where we felt very
strongly about it, the only way in which we would have influence
would be by acting together.
Q422 Lord Jay of Ewelme:
Is that true of human rights?
Mr Cooper: I would not want to put human rights
in terms of leverage. Do they listen more to the EU than they
do to individual Member States? In the EU there is a Human Rights
Dialogue and there is certainly one in the UK and Germany that
I am aware of and probably others as well. I do not know. They
do listen because there have been studies done which demonstrate
that the political prisoners whose cases are raised with the Chinese
tend to get released a bit earlier than those whose cases are
not raised. Perhaps that is not accidental. In general, my impression
of the Chinese is although they do not respond immediately they
do listen to what is said, they digest it, think about it, look
at it from several angles and then you find a couple of years
later they have changed what they do. Above all they listen to
what the Chinese people are saying, that is what really matters
to them. There are real changes that have taken place in China,
like the access to government information. For example, they have
handledit seems to be called swine flu although I understand
this is unfair on pigsswine flu very differently from the
way in which they handled SARS because I think they learnt from
their own internal experience. What matters to them always is
what their own people think, but I think there is also evidence
that they listen to what foreigners say.
You started to talk about the view of China in terms of the EU
as a single body that is in their interests and I guess this question
really explores that further. Does China still see the EU in some
way as a counterweight to the United States? Is this consistent
with the EU view of multilateralism and world order, I suppose?
How do those come together?
Mr Cooper: The first thing is that we certainly
do not see ourselves as a counterweight to the USA. Even if we
wanted to be, that would not work. If you think in terms of a
kind of plural world, a world in which there are not just two
great powers, China and the USA, but a world in which there are
several large players, that is probably more comfortable for China.
I do not find that unreasonable. Maybe there will be times in
the future when the EU and China will have a view which is similar
and different from that of the USA. In the trade area, for example,
we may well have similar interests. I know that the Chinese do
take the European Union seriously because there seems to be hardly
a book written on the European Union which is not translated into
Chinese. They study it very hard and if you go there they display
a far more profound knowledge of the European Union than most
people in Britain.
Q424 Lord Jay of Ewelme:
Including your book, I hope.
Mr Cooper: Yes, my book too. I was thinking
of fat books with lots of footnotes.
Thank you very much indeed for your very concise and useful answers.
We will let you have a copy of the transcript and please look
that through. We very much appreciate the time that you and your
colleagues have given to us. We hope to publish in the autumn.
Mr Cooper: Always a pleasure to do business
with the House of Lords!
Chairman: Thank you.