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Monday, Nov. 3, 2003

China, EU working to justify closer ties

HONG KONG -- China and the European Union, each rapidly growing in its own way, are poised to develop a closer relationship that encompasses virtually all spheres, including global politics and economic cooperation.

This is a natural development since both parties share a common desire to allow multilateral institutions, in particular the United Nations, to play a more prominent role in world affairs.

The U.S.-led war on Iraq last spring showed that major European countries -- with the obvious exception of Britain and Spain -- plus China and Russia wanted to prevent unilateral action by the United States.

Earlier this month, China took the unprecedented step of issuing a policy paper on the EU, the first time it has issued such a strategy paper on any part of the world. In it, China highlighted the objectives of its EU policy and outlined areas of cooperation in the coming five years.

While acknowledging differences between the two sides, the paper insisted that "there is no fundamental conflict of interest between China and the EU, and neither side poses a threat to the other."

Moreover, both China and the EU stand for democracy in international relations and an enhanced role for the U.N." (The term "democracy in international relations" is used to signify opposition to unilateral action by the U.S.)

"To strengthen China-EU relations is an important component of China's foreign policy," the paper said. "China is committed to a long-term, stable and full partnership with the EU." It went on to state China's desire to "promote sound and steady development of China-EU political relations," to "deepen China-EU economic cooperation and trade" and "to expand China-EU cultural and people-to-people exchanges."

The paper pointed out that the two countries' economies are to a large extent complementary: "The EU has a developed economy, advanced technologies and strong financial resources while China boasts steady economic growth, a huge market and an abundant labor force. There are broad prospects for bilateral trade and economic and technological cooperation."

China is now the third-largest trading partner of the EU. The Chinese position was warmly welcomed by the EU. Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, called it "a significant contribution toward further deepening dialogue and cooperation" and promised to undertake "a thorough examination of the Chinese proposals."

The two sides will hold their sixth summit meeting in Beijing on Thursday, during which the Chinese proposals will be discussed. This will be the first summit since the new Chinese leadership was inaugurated earlier this year. The Chinese policy document follows a European Commission policy paper on China, "A Maturing Partnership: Shared Interests and Challenges in EU-China Relations."

In its paper on China, the EU said: "Both sides must adapt to a fast-moving international scene. . . . The EU and China have an ever-greater interest to work together as strategic partners to safeguard and promote sustainable development, peace and stability. Interests converge on many international governance issues, notably the importance both attach to the role of the U.N. in physical and environmental security."

Both sides acknowledge disagreements in the relationship. A major issue is human rights. According to the Europeans, the EU "remained concerned about the significant gap still existing between the current human rights situation in China and internationally accepted standards." The EU wishes to raise the level of its human rights dialogue to vice ministerial level, hoping that this would result in faster progress.

Illegal immigration from China is also a problem, and the EU hopes to reach an agreement with China on the repatriation of illegal immigrants. The EU, though, wants to see more tourists from mainland China and, to this end, hopes to sign with China an "Authorized Destination Status" agreement to facilitate Chinese tourism in Europe.

On China's side, the main concerns are the observance of the one-China principle by the EU. The Chinese paper called on the EU to "prohibit any visit by any Taiwan political figures to the EU or its member countries under whatever name or pretext" and not to support "Taiwan's accession to or participation in any international organization whose membership requires statehood."

China also asked the EU "not to have any contact with the 'Tibetan government in exile' or provide facilities to the separatist activities of the Dalai clique." China also wants the EU to lift its ban on arms sales to China, imposed after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist and commentator.

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