Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UK from October 20th-23rd had every possible element of flattery and friendship. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said before the visit that the UK was China’s “best partner in the West”. Xi told a joint session of Parliament that China and the UK were becoming “an interdependent community of entwined interests”.
China has not, however, singled out the UK for special favours. Chart 1 shows that (even though the UK's trade with China has increased significantly in recent years) Britain is still far from being China’s most important economic partner in Europe.
Chart 1. China's leading EU trade partners, 2013
Since Sept 1, #Chinese leaders have met senior representatives of more than 20 #EU member-states
No use @eu_eeas & @EU_Commission delivering tough msgs to #China if member-states undermine #EU line
- The most important thing is to have a unified European policy towards China, which takes account of the EU's interest in preserving the global order and principles like freedom of navigation. It is pointless for the European External Action Service and the Commission to deliver tough messages, if individual member-states undermine the EU line in order to gain commercial advantage. Germany shows that it is possible to deliver unpalatable messages to China, as long as the trading relationship is important enough to Beijing; and the collective EU trading relationship is the most important of all.
- The Commission and the European External Action Service should ensure that they have a coherent approach to the OBOR initiative, ideally with one senior figure looking at both its technical aspects and geopolitical implications.
- Europe needs to remember that China is not its only partner in the region. Countries like Japan, South Korea and Vietnam are also important, politically and economically, and have their own interests; the EU should weigh these against its desire to gain Chinese approval and economic benefits.
- The EU should make clear to China that European interests in the South China Sea go beyond free passage for European shipping; the principles of maritime law at stake there have global implications. The EU is right to stay neutral on the substance of claims, but it should back the Philippines in saying that an international tribunal is the right body to adjudicate between claimants.
- The EU should offer advice to ASEAN on practical matters like maritime surveillance and fisheries management in the region, as a way of removing some of the sources of possible clashes.
- China and its neighbours need a multilateral dialogue on the South China Sea. The EU should build on the precedent of the Asia-Europe foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on November 5th and 6th, where EU ministers discussed the South China Sea in private with counterparts from all the littoral states, including China.
- The EU should revive efforts to co-ordinate policy towards China with the US. Then-US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and then-EU High Representative for foreign policy Catherine Ashton issued a statement on the Asia-Pacific region in 2012, setting out a number of shared objectives and calling for regular high-level dialogue; but there has been little subsequent follow-up. The interests of Washington and Brussels will not always coincide, but often they will, whether it is on protection of intellectual property rights, compliance with WTO standards or freedom of navigation.
- The EU should make sure that it focuses on getting China to meet European standards of economic governance and investment protection, rather than relaxing its standards to attract the Chinese to Europe: no Chinese company should be able to flout EU rules in the way that the Russian gas company Gazprom was able to for many years.
No #Chinese company shld be able to flout #EU rules in the way that #Gazprom was able to for years