Posts Tagged ‘EU-China relations’

Starting the new year with a splash and a piece for the Financial Times BeyondBRICS, this captures an idea I have been working on for a while and am hoping this year to finally really develop. Lots more on my work with Alex in particular on our joint site: http://www.chinaincentralasia.com

Guest post: The route to better relationships with China lies along the Silk Road

Jan 8, 2014 9:26am by guest writer
By Raffaello Pantucci of the Royal United Services Institute

A gentle rapprochement is under way between China and the United Kingdom. After almost two years in a diplomatic freeze, David Cameron visited Beijing last month and made an effective play for more trade. For the UK, this is a moment to recalibrate its relationship and play a role in coaxing China towards becoming a responsible international stakeholder. One route to that end is through understanding and working with China’s ‘march westward’ strategy, which has at its heart the re-activation of the ancient Silk Road linking China to Europe.

Coined by prominent Chinese academic Wang Jisi back in 2011, the ‘March Westwards’ strategy is the external component of the ‘Develop the West’ strategy that Beijing advanced to bring prosperity and development to its historically underdeveloped and turbulent western provinces of Xinjiang and Tibet. Long-standing sources of instability for the central government, the regions were racked by particular violence in 2008 (Tibet) and 2009 (Xinjiang). The brutality of the Xinjiang violence was a wake-up call, with more than 200 reportedly killed on the streets of Urumqi, the provincial capital, as the chaos forced then-leader Hu Jintao to leave an international G8 Summit in L’Aquila to manage the situation.

Since then, a series of measures have been taken to try to force the region to prosper. Richer coastal provinces have taken responsibility for counties in Xinjiang, putting a percentile of their GDP and staff to work in the region. Chinese companies have been encouraged to invest in the province, while a local trade fair has been transformed into an international China-Eurasian Expo that has attracted regional heads of state, senior Politburo members and former leaders of the stature of Tony Blair. The Xinjiang government has made an active play in trying to court foreign investment into the region, undertaking trade missions around Europe while also building trade parks targeted at regional players such as Turkey.

But all of this investment will achieve nothing if Xinjiang has nowhere to trade with. This explains China’s push into central Asia. Once a bit player in the region, China is the ascendant power across central Asia with Chinese businessmen and workers crowding the streets of Bishkek, Dushanbe and Almaty. In Tajikistan, international financial institutions report that tenders for contracts are increasingly competitions between Chinese firms underbidding each other to rebuild the mountainous country. In Turkmenistan, the economy is focused on exporting its hydrocarbon wealth to China, the one country that has shown the agility and capacity to unlock its mineral wealth and is willing to engage with the authorities on their terms. Across the region, Chinese work-teams are rebuilding roads, railways and other infrastructure to re-wire the region’s infrastructure so that all roads lead to Beijing.

But the ultimate goal of all this is to reconnect China to Europe across the Eurasian landmass and to strengthen the physical link between Chinese producers and European markets. As Wen Jiabao affirmed in his speech at the 2nd China-Eurasia Expo, China’s aim is to transform Urumqi once again into the ‘gateway to Eurasia’. And it is here that the UK can find its natural role as the anchor at the other end of this route.

Sitting in Urumqi last year, a Xinjiang official who had been sent to the province from Beijing as a footsoldier in China’s regional strategy, told a visiting British delegation that Urumqi was ‘the closest big Chinese city to Europe’. From a Chinese perspective, a key part of this solution to Xinjiang’s problems is to nurture the economic link and encourage Europe to participate more actively.

This is an opportunity for British businesses to get into one of the underdeveloped parts of the Chinese economy, as well as tapping into a growing boom in central Asia. In some fields this will mean competing with Chinese companies but, in others, finding niche specialisms or technologies that British companies have and Chinese companies lack offers an opening into markets in both China and central Asia. Several British companies have found Xinjiang to be a profitable market. Some are providing equipment for energy companies, others are developers helping cities re-design themselves, others supply heavy building equipment to support China’s infrastructure boom across the region. Chinese competitors may exist in these fields but ‘brand China’ continues to be seen in a negative light both within and beyond the country. When other brands are available, people tend to prefer to go for them if they are affordable. And doubtless other opportunities exist.

There is of course an important human rights component to this discussion that needs to be addressed. Many object to China’s disregard for human rights in its ‘counter-terrorism’ strategy in Xinjiang, a concern only further heightened in central Asia. While care needs to be made, this also offers a further angle for British engagement. The UK’s CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy may have its faults and deficiencies but is a widely emulated model whose division between pre-emptive and reactive measures offers a useful structure through which to try to engage with political violence. Clearly, the approach and relative weighting of different aspects of the strategy needs to be carefully calibrated in every situation – but the Chinese are in the midst of a re-structuring of their counter-terrorism response with Xinjiang at the heart of their concerns. Engaging now offers a moment to influence the situation positively.

The UK’s history with China has been dominated by the seas. Hong Kong was the final bastion of British seafaring dominance of China, a history that still hangs heavy in the Chinese mindset. A new approach is needed that instead looks to China’s Eurasian heritage to rebuild a British, and European, policy towards China.

Raffaello Pantucci is a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

 

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A post for Whose World Order? offering some thoughts to have emerged from a recent conference that I helped organize in Shanghai around the EU-China Year of Youth. Should be some more bits coming out from this soon.

Shanghai View: Generation gaps in China & Europe

Date: 21st June 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: China,
Tags: , EuWelfareYouthChinaCultural Revolution

We were lucky this week to be able to help organise a conference in Shanghai around theEU-China Year of Youth, supported by the EU STF Programme and co-hosted by theShanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS). The one-day event was entitled “What World Have They Left Us? A discussion about generations between Chinese and European Youth,” and brought together a group of young Chinese and Europeans to talk about generation gaps, and what they would advise their leaders to do to address the problems these gaps create.

One major point of discussion was the expanding welfare burden that both China and Europe face, thanks to ever-growing aging populations. In both, current younger generations are paying for welfare and pension benefits that they are unlikely to be able to enjoy themselves. But in China, these problems are exacerbated by the fact that there is estimated shortfall of 30-70 million girls, due to the combination of the one child policy and a preference for male children over females. This is going to lead either to a lot of frustrated men in the future or a large influx of foreign brides (or maybe both). The one child policy was continuously raised as an issue, but no-one could offer a solution to it. Most of the Chinese participants said that they felt that the government was right to introduce it, given the over-population in China.

From a European perspective, the aging question is not a new one. It was noted, however, that while in Europe the young used to be seen as a problem and a threat, aging populations suddenly mean that they are now seen as a potential resource that must be exploited more effectively.

The other big focus of discussion was the question of values between generations. The difference in life experience between old and young in China is huge: one generation has lived through the ardors of the cultural revolution, while the younger one is enjoying an Apple-designed and Starbucks-fuelled lifestyle, and being told that China is the new superpower. As one European characterised it, China has gone from a “no culture” generation to a “Chinese culture is the best in the world” generation.

A young Chinese recalled being in Australia when the patriotic film The Founding of a Republic was screened. She described sitting in a cinema full of Chinese students, who got up when the flag appeared at the end and sang their national anthem – much to the surprise of the Australians in the theatre. The intriguing thing was that the young woman who raised this story used it in the context of being quite concerned about the extreme nationalism she noticed among her age group. Another young Chinese later launched into a rather angry diatribe about the utter loss of values amongst younger generations – his particular anger focused on the sexual amorality he saw around himself.

From a European perspective, it seemed as though the generational dislocation was less dramatic – one European participant said that he felt that his values were probably quite similar to those of his parents. Perhaps the bigger gap in Europe’s case is one generation further back – it was his grandparents’ generation that experienced the earth-shattering events of World War Two, and which often has very different values and experiences to those of their children, our parents.

In the end, one of the key conclusions was the fact that there was a homogenisation of views on the problems that younger generations face in China and Europe. Younger generations are going to be dealing with problems that are remarkably similar, and what is striking is the fact that both seem to be responding in similar ways. A bland conclusion maybe, but at the same time one that perhaps bodes well for the broader EU-China relationship, pointing towards an increasing confluence of opinion that might help the two overcome the current tensions that dominate the bilateral relationship.

A somewhat elementary title for my latest short commentary on EU-China relations for the EU Observer. There are going to be a few more on this theme in the near future as I continue to try to publish more in relation to the work I am doing in China at the moment. Am going to be building towards something large to be published sometime next year.

RAFFAELLO PANTUCCI

Today @ 11:34 CET

EUOBSERVER / COMMENT – Baroness Ashton is in China once again to help clarify a little better what exactly it is that a strategic partnership between China and the EU should look like. Since its declaration in 2003, thinkers across the EU and China have puzzled together and apart over exactly how to implement this grand rhetoric, with no discernible conclusion. The reason for this: both sides have very different interpretations of what this means.

“The EU needs to recognise that China has very different views on issues that Europeans hold dear” (Photo: ec.europa.eu)

During a recent research interview in Beijing, a connected and eminent Chinese Euro-watcher told me “China’s meaning of strategic is different to the EU’s: China’s interpretation is we agree on strategic issues…in China this means we are thinking in long-term. Dealing with single issues is not strategic.” This stands somewhat in contrast to Baroness Ashton’s comments on the eve of her latest trip in which she told the China Daily, “The EU and China hold a strategic partnership. That means that we will not only talk about bilateral relations, but also about the main challenges the world is facing today.” China sees a realist “long-term” view while Europe sees “today.”

This is an important distinction to make, as it underlies a lot of the misunderstandings that are often visible between the EU and China. The EU thinks in terms which are linked to the here and now, while China prefers to think in the longer term seeing the short-term as unproductive. As a Chinese policy planner put it to me when talking specifically about Iran, “more speed, no result.” Unfortunately, this rather clashes with the sense of urgency that Europeans often see on issues in comparison to their Chinese counterparts. Iran and climate change are just two examples.

Since she has been in office, Baroness Ashton has made robust statements about the need for Iran to cease its nuclear programme highlighting in remarks in Cairo in March that the EU position “is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs. A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.”

On this last point, the Chinese would undoubtedly agree. In discussions experts and officials alike highlight the fact that a nuclear-free world is a goal that we can all agree on. However, Beijing does not see the same sort of urgency around Iran in the short-term. A report in February by the International Crisis Group based on extensive interviews pointed out that, “China does not view Iran’s nuclear programme as an immediate threat,” a view that is supported by more recent interviews in Beijing and Shanghai.

Missing the bigger picture?

This fundamental difference means that while the EU feels that something needs to be done now and the recent sanctions were the clear next step, China instead thinks that there is a “need to be more patient” and that sanctions are going to be counter-productive. In a particularly blunt conversation, one influential scholar told me in July that the Middle East is “your problem” and that anyway there is very little that China can do in this situation. His view was that the focus on nuclear issues is perceived by some to be missing the bigger point which is that a more comprehensive solution is needed.

In many ways, a similar picture can be painted for climate change where broadly speaking both the EU and China recognize that it is a problem, but they see it on very different timelines. Or to put it more accurately, see it at different positions in the ranking of current issues to be dealt with.

According to the European Commission Environment website, “Climate change is already happening and represents one of the greatest environmental, social and economic threats facing the planet.” At the Nanjing EU-China Summit last year Commission President Barosso highlighted this urgency further while pushing the US and China to do more “We are asking all sides to do everything they can to contribute to a comprehensive and global agreement,” he said. This seemed to echo Premier Wen Jiabao’s earlier comments to the Financial Times that “the Chinese government gives top priority to meeting the challenge of climate change.”

Climate change or poverty – one issue at a time

But at the same time, repeated Chinese statements have highlighted that economic growth is a bigger priority than climate change. In the wake of the Copenhagen conference, He Jingjun, a prolific analyst working for the Chongqing government, was quoted as saying, “the Chinese government must continue to prioritise development, economic growth and social stability” over climate change. This was reinforced to me in conversation with an influential Beijing academic who said the government can address either climate change or poverty – both at the same time is simply unrealistic. His unvarnished conclusion was that “China is not going to do what West wants on climate change.”

There is even a school of thought, described to me by a senior foreign policy thinker at Peking University, that the entire climate change issue might have been concocted by the West to stunt Chinese growth. In his view, if climate change was as urgent and threatening a problem as the EU claims, we would not be haggling over technology transfers.

It is hard to know how widespread this view is, but it is certainly the case that there is a general sense that China is being asked too much in climate change terms. One official repeated the old Chinese line that “China is a developing country,” and that other “important actors” need come to the table on the issue if it is to be solved.

But this sort of debate is one which frustrates European policymakers who repeatedly refer to climate change as an immediate problem needing to be addressed at forums like Copenhagen. As Commission President Barosso put it: “we cannot negotiate with the reality of climate change.” For Europe the here-and-now is the priority, while for China, it is obviously a less immediate crisis.

On her visit to Guiyang today, Baroness Ashton was quoted in the Chinese press as saying that “the EU needs to know more about China.” The context of this may have been a general sense of understanding of the great wealth and population diversity that can be found across this great country, but it is equally clear that the EU needs to recognise that China has very different views on issues that Europeans hold dear.

The writer is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS), where he is working on a project looking at EU-China relations as an EU STFP Fellow.