Today's date:
Summer 2001


A New Europe Has Its Own Agenda With China

Chris Patten was the last British governor of Hong Kong and is now the European Union's commissioner for external affairs.

-The importance of the US-China relationship does not negate that of Europe-China relations. Nor must the European Union view its relations with China through a trans-Atlantic prism.

As Europe and China change rapidly, we must take a fresh look at our shared concerns. New areas such as illegal immigration, food hygiene and genetically modified organisms have risen up the agenda. China is the world's second largest consumer of energy and the third largest producer, so its energy policy has global impact, not least on air quality and climate change.

These issues, and others such as the information society, now complement the traditional development and trade themes that have formed the core of Europe's approach since we established relations in 1975. If the EU is to be successful in making the multilateral system effective, we need to cooperate particularly closely with the major players and encourage their international engagement, including in the United Nations. We won't make progress on transnational issues such as disarmament, nonproliferation, drug trafficking and environmental degradation without Chinese and US cooperation.

On regional issues, too, our political dialogue with China is expanding and can go further. For example, the EU and China can work together, along with the US, Japan and South Korea, in support of reconciliation between the two Koreas. The mission to Pyongyang led by the Swedish prime minister was conducted with that in mind.

And the problems of Burma, as a major producer of amphetamines and heroin and a potential source of instability, should concern us both.

There are, naturally, plenty of areas where our approaches will differ. But the relationship is now mature enough for us to discuss them frankly. That is the basis for the EU-China human rights dialogue that we have pursued since 1996.

Just discussing human rights is not enough, of course. Results matter more. I signed a (e)14.7 million program on village governance during a visit to China in late May. This is an area where China has committed itself to reform and where some progress has been made on the ground, which the EU is keen to support.

But there remain many issues of profound concern to us, such as treatment of political dissidents and religious groups, and the fact that China makes more use of the death penalty than any other country. The human rights agenda is an international one, and not just an EU fixation. Positive developments in human rights and the rule of law will help China's integration into the international community and the world economy, and underpin its growth, development and stability. Accession to the World Trade Organization will have a significant effect. The EU settled its terms for Chinese membership a year ago, and we hope to see early accession. China is now the world's seventh largest trading nation. Its total foreign trade grew by more than 30 percent in 2000.

EU-China trade has already increased more than twenty-fold since China began its open-door policy in 1978. Last year the EU was the largest foreign direct investor in China.

Meanwhile, the EU trade deficit with China increased by 47 percent last year, reaching (e)44.4 billion, an eyebrow-raising level. I hope that WTO accession will help to bring this down by opening up the Chinese economy and providing additional opportunities for EU companies to do business. The EU is a staunch supporter of China's economic reform process and is using its technical assistance to back this up. For a country as big as China, our development assistance-perhaps some (e)250 million over the next five years-will inevitably be only a drop in the ocean compared with China's needs. But we will increase its impact if we target it better.

In the future we will concentrate on three main areas: support to the economic and social reform process (including WTO accession), promotion of sustainable development and encouragement of good governance and the rule of law.

These reforms are not easy. They bring with them a number of social problems, such as regional income disparities, dislocation and a pressing need for social security reform.

The problems that China faces are unprecedented in scale, but the EU has experienced similar challenges. We have to address the problems of our outermost regions, the need for social and economic cohesion and the modernization of our pension systems. Through sharing this experience, and our cooperation programs, we hope to ease the transition in China.

A fresh look at the EU's China strategy comes at a good time. I believe that China has now recognized that changes in Europe make the EU a more important partner in the future. As of next January, bundles of euro coins will be emptied into cash registers in 12 EU member states. A genuine common foreign and security policy is emerging more rapidly than anyone expected five years ago. The next enlargement will once again alter the European landscape, increasing the EU area by 34 percent and its population by 105 million, to 481 million. That means a bigger market for Chinese products and a bigger source of investment. That can only be good news for China.

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