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

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420 - 425)


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: Influence rather.

  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 handled—it seems to be called swine flu although I understand this is unfair on pigs—swine 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.

  Q423  Chairman: 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.

  Q425  Chairman: 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. Thank you.

  Mr Cooper: Always a pleasure to do business with the House of Lords!

  Chairman: Thank you.

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