Posts Tagged ‘EU foreign policy’

An op-ed for an online outlet I used to contribute more to, the EU Observer. This looks at Central Asia in the wake of Catherine Ashton’s visit there. The idea of China and Europe doing more together in Central Asia is the focus of a longer piece that should be landing soon. UPDATE (2/12/12): Off the back of this article, I was interviewed for this long Los Angeles Times times piece about Ms Ashton’s visit to Central Asia.

Soldiers on guard in Turkmenistan (Photo: d_proffer)

Central Asia: Europe’s Asia Pivot?
28.11.12 @ 09:58


BRUSSELS – World media has been abuzz with America’s “Asia Pivot” and President Barack Obama’s groundbreaking trip to Rangoon.

But while the visit signals the importance of Asia as a strategic focus for Obama’s second administration, the same cannot be said of Europe.

This week’s visit by Catherine Ashton to Central Asia offers a possible key that could both refocus Europe on an area it has long ignored, as well as helping shift its relationship with China onto a more practical basis.

European leaders talk of paying attention to Asia and have long cultivated a “strategic partnership” with China, but there is little evidence of much of this having any relation to what is happening on the ground.

Instead, Europe remains on the sidelines as a whole new region emerges on the global stage.

It does not need to be this way. Europe has as much of a claim to be involved in Asian affairs as the United States – it just needs to find the right key.

While the regular Asian-European meeting (Asem) offers a forum in which Europe can talk with East Asian powers, it has yet to really live up to its full potential.

The EU-Central Asia ministerial this week offers an underexplored avenue that Europe could use to re-engage with a region that is crying out for outside assistance, as well as engaging with China on its neglected flank.

Central Asia is one of the ignored regions of the world.

Stuck between China and Russia and adjacent to Afghanistan, it has been relegated in global attention. Insomuch as it does figure in current strategic thinking, it tends to be as an extension of Afghanistan, with the current focus largely being on which nation to use as a staging point for leaving in 2014.

If thinking goes much beyond this, then there is some awareness that the region is rich in energy resources and is primarily Russian speaking.

But a new narrative is emerging regionally, with an old Russian-centric order increasingly being nudged aside through gradual Chinese investment.

Focused on developing its westernmost province, Xinjiang, into a gateway for Eurasia, China has built roads, rail and other infrastructure to help develop the region and connect it better to China.

The idea is not just to connect Central Asia to China, but rather to connect China through the region to Russian and European markets.

China and Europe’s visions and interests in Central Asia broadly align.

Both are eager for the region to develop and become prosperous, to see the natural wealth in the region as something to their benefit.

There are slightly different priorities underlying these decisions: for China it is key in developing its west, while for Europe more abstract regional “security, governance and energy” are the issues laid out in strategy papers.

But both recognise the potential danger of Afghan instability spilling across borders, with European member states engaged militarily in Afghanistan and both the EU and China implementing or announcing police training missions in Afghanistan.

As 2014 approaches and the need for greater focus on Central Asia is going to grow, a breach opens into which Europe has an opportunity to have its own “Asia Pivot” focused instead on China’s western flank.

This would be welcomed by Beijing, which would be eager to see Europe connecting across their common landmass, and would be welcomed by the regional powers that are eager to have as many international partners as possible.

Europe’s aim should be not just to continue to do the development work and infrastructure projects that it has long done, but rather to focus on developing its economic and trade links to the region.

Beyond this, it should develop its regional security programs aimed at helping improve border security and supporting counter-narcotics efforts.

Clearly there is a delicate balance that needs to be struck here with regards to human rights – but simply lecturing is not going to get the answers or responses that we want.

Engagement may help reduce security concerns and will enable better practices to be instilled regionally. All of which would ultimately also align with Beijing’s regional interests, offering a window for a new and productive discussion between Brussels and Beijing.

It could finally provide some meat on the bones of its “strategic partnership” with China, offering a practical outcome beyond the regular summit meetings.

Over a century has passed since Halford Mackinder presented his idea of Eurasia as the “geographical pivot of history” to the Royal Geographical Society in London.

The idea at its core remains sound and is the key through which Europe should orient its own “Asia Pivot” today.

Focusing on Central Asia as a region in which it can try to engage with China offers a new avenue to develop its key relationship in Asia and to focus on an area that is going to be increasingly important to Europe.

Europe needs a way to stay relevant in Asia – focusing on its connective tissue across the Eurasian landmass offers a currently underexplored vehicle.

Raffaello Pantucci is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS). His research can be found at

Another EU-China piece to come out around the Summit this time for the Oriental Morning Post (东方早报) – as usual, published Chinese above, English submitted below. Am also going to follow up a bit on this subject, and am still awaiting for longer pieces I have written on this topic to see the light of day. In the meantime, the Summit takes place today and seems to be focusing on economic affairs.










我的观点是:欧洲对于中国至关重要,而本周的峰会将会进一步证明这点。最近所有人的目光都仅仅投射在中国对美和对其邻国的外交政策上,这不会为我们带来任何益处,只会创造更多矛盾。我们必须拥有更广阔的视野,更重视这一将给中国带来蓬勃发展的双边关系。中欧关系也许没有中美关系和中国海上关系之中那些安全因素的存在,但这应当被理解为一种优势,而非缺点。(李鸣燕 译)


Thursday marks the 15th EU-China Summit, or China’s annual meeting with its largest trading partner. And yet, it is likely that the Summit will pass without much attention with people instead focused towards America and ongoing tensions with China’s eastern neighbors. This unfortunate state of affairs highlights how a relationship with the potential to play a major role in international affairs is being left to the side while neuralgic obsessions between China and her neighbors dominate the global perception of East Asian affairs.

The EU-China relationship remains a relatively young one. While individual European member states have long and sometimes ambiguous histories with China, the European Union itself only established formal relations with China some 37 years ago, about 24 years after the foundation of a European Union and 26 years since the foundation of the People’s Republic. First established in the wake of the Second World War as a Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) between France, West Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands the European Union was initially conceived as a way of guaranteeing that the wars that had dominated much of Europe’s history could never happen again.

Nowadays this dream has evolved further and the EU is trying to forge a common foreign and security identity to try to project itself in the world. And key amongst foreign relationships is China. Since 2004 the EU has been China’s largest trading partner and China has been the EU’s second. Currently, bilateral trade stands at a massive 428.7 billion Euros with a further 42.6 billion Euros in trade in services. The EU and China meet annually for Summit’s, have regular high level economic and strategic dialogues, and over 50 specific sectoral dialogues that meet regularly to discuss a wide variety of topics. Beyond dialogue there are a growing number of instances in which Chinese and Europeans are working together on the world stage. In the waters off Somalia, Chinese and European vessels together patrol for pirates, and earlier this year, the two announced the creation of a ‘Joint Project for Managing Disaster Risks.’ And beyond this, back and forth exchanges between European’s and Chinese are commonplace: many Chinese friends tell me of how much they enjoy going to Europe (and not just because of the weak Euro!), whilst I first came to work in China along with 30 others under the auspices of a project to improve contacts between China and Europe. And a number of us have chosen to stay on afterwards.

But for all this goodwill, the strategic relationship between China and Europe seems to constantly languish in the dark. Vastly overshadowed by the US-China relationship whose high level interactions and undertone of military hostility keep everyone imagining a new Cold War, the EU-China relationship is one that seems to slip past unobserved.

This is unfortunate, as the reality is that the EU and China are both large powers with a preference for multilateral activity on the world stage and without whom it is hard to imagine that the world will fix many of the large problems that plague it today. They do a growing amount of work together already, and the foundations are in place for more. Whilst the tendency is to dismiss Europe as a strategic power in Asia due to the absence of a large security presence, the reality is that this places it in a position where it can stand above the current tensions. In fact, in an ideal world, the EU could act as something of an honest broker between the two sides – with close links to China, Japan and the US, the EU could potentially play a role in helping calm relations. The very absence of a large European strategic security presence in Asia is something that should be seen as an asset rather than a hindrance.

The further reality is that the world is not solely dominated by security tensions. In fact, far more important to people’s daily lives are economic relations and trade – and in this aspect, the EU is as important, if not more so, than the US to China. China is in the midst of period of economic adjustment and its large economic relationship with the EU is something that is going to play an important role in laying out how this develops over time. We can already see how the downturn in Europe is having a negative effect on China. The American market has proven to be a difficult nut for Chinese firms to crack, while Europe remains far more open – something most recently seen in China Construction Bank Chairman Wang Hongzhang’s comments about seeking to invest some $15 billion in Europe.

The point is that the EU is important to China, and this week’s Summit will be further affirmation of this. Of late there has been a tendency to focus almost exclusively in the Chinese foreign policy mindset on the United States and security tensions with neighbors. This state of affairs will lead nowhere good and merely provide fodder for further tensions. A broader vision needs to be taken and one that takes into account a relationship that has brought prosperity to China. EU-China relations may lack the emotive security tensions that characterize US-China and China’s tense naval relations, but this is something that should be interpreted as an advantage rather than weakness.

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS) and an expert of the Europe China Research and Advice Network (ECRAN).

A new op-ed for the Global Times timed to come out alongside the EU-China Summit taking place in Brussels. The title is a bit at odds with the text I feel, but there we go. Also, their Chinese edition published my earlier article for them on EU power in Asia, for those who want to practice their Mandarin, check it out here. On another note, I have been honoured by the Diplomatic Courier magazine and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy and chosen as one of their ‘Top 99 under 33 Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.’ Many thanks to them for putting me in such a distinguished group of friends and peers.

EU-China ties fall short of expectations

Global Times | 2012-9-18 20:25:03

By Raffaello Pantucci

Eight years have passed since noted sinologist David Shambaugh declared “Over time the EU-China relationship will become a new axis in world affairs.” As the 15th EU-China Summit is being held in Brussels, it is useful to pause and take stock of where the Sino-EU relations stand and to think ahead about what the relationship is likely to hold for the next administration in China. Since the giddy heights of 2004, the EU-China relationship has continued to flourish, though often its public face has been at odds with its private one.

First, the good news. Since 2004 when the EU became China’s largest trading partner and China the EU’s second, trade has continued to flourish. In 2004 total bilateral trade was 125.84 billion euros ($164.88). Nowadays, these numbers have grown to 428.7 billion euros in trade in goods, with a further 42.6 billion euros in services. And the EU clearly continues to remain a key target market for acquisitions by Chinese investors. On the eve of the summit, China Construction Bank Chairman Wang Hongzhang announced that his bank was looking to spend somewhere in the region of $15 billion on investments in “UK, Germany or France.”

Second, people-to-people exchanges continue apace. In 2010, there were some 120,000 Chinese students in Europe. That same year, some 2.5 million Chinese visited Europe in total. And coming the other way, China has long been a preferred destination of European tourists, and there are growing numbers of European students at Chinese universities, researchers at Chinese institutes, and European-owned restaurants and stores. When Chinese look to quality brands, it is luxury from Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Prada or Zegna they look for.

Third, China and the EU are doing increasing amounts of things together on the world stage. The most obvious example is the anti-piracy mission off Somalia where European and Chinese ships serve together to protect international shipping. Elsewhere in Africa, work is developing, but in November 2007, both sides committed to “more practical cooperation by the two sides through their respective existing cooperation mechanisms with Africa so as to contribute to Africa’s peace, stability and sustainable development.”

But it is not all wine and roses. There are tensions between the two: On Syria in particular a lack of consensus has led to blockage in the UN Security Council. While both agree climate change and environmental degradation is something they agree is negative, responses vary. And for all the trade back and forth, there remains a lack of trust between the two on certain trade matters and intellectual property rights questions.

It would also be disingenuous to not observe that the public rhetoric in the relationship has also taken a beating over the years. This got particularly bad in 2008 when protests in Europe around the Olympic torch relay resulted in a backlash against France in particular. But it is worth noting that even as the rhetoric got hot, trade between the EU and China remained strong – in fact, EU exports to China grew from 78.4 billion euros in 2008 to 82.4 billion euros in 2009.

Such tensions are normal within such a large and complex relationship. Recently, there has been a tendency to focus on the Beijing-Berlin axis as though this was the only relationship that mattered between the EU and China. The reality is that Germany is the largest economic player in the EU, a position that has been emphasized by the recent downturn that has affected others in Europe worse than Germany. So it is only natural that they should end up playing an outsized role in the EU’s relationship with one of its biggest trading partners.

As we approach the end of one chapter in EU-China relations, we have clearly not yet lived up to the high bar set by David Shambaugh in 2004. However, we have made considerable progress in a positive direction and laid strong foundations that can be built on by subsequent administrations.

The author is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences and an expert of the Europe China Research and Advice Network.

A short piece I wrote a little while ago for the Europe China Research and Advice Network (ECRAN), focusing on the EU and China’s diplomatic links. For more about ECRAN, please go here, while to know about this specific project, please go here. More on this topic for ECRAN to come in the next few days as we gear up for the EU-China Summit.


Diplomatic Links

Raffaello Pantucci

Current Status

There is no shortage of diplomatic relations between the EU and China. According to the EEAS count there are over 50 dialogues current running under three major pillars (strategic, economic and sectoral, and people-to-people), with the annual EU-China Summit at its apex. Additional high level conferences include senior business dialogues, a recently established minister-level energy dialogue, a party political forum between European Parliamentary parties and the Chinese Communist Party, as well as lower level interactions across the board through executive branch interactions, Track II meetings (often including think tanks), and a whole array of other forms of contact. In addition, EU- level interactions with China are further repeated at the national level as Member States maintain their bilateral relationships with China. And sitting atop this, there is the diplomatic interaction between the EU, EU Member States and China in international institutions like the United Nations, G20, or the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). This high level and regular interaction at so many levels is testament to not only a close relationship, but also to the preference both sides show for multilateralism in international affairs.

The stated EU goal of this wide array of interactions is to provide an ‘effective tool for further widening and deepening EU relations with China.’ However, it is not always clear exactly how effective they have been. European diplomats involved in this process have highlight successes in getting Chinese movement on particular issues during specific economic or trade dialogues – something independently confirmed in the statements issued after meetings. But in other exchanges, for example the human rights dialogue, it is unclear whether the Chinese side is very cooperative. There have, for example, been reports that some European NGO participants due to engage in a human rights legal seminar did not have their visas approved to enter the country. Given the depth and complexity of the relationship, issues like this are perhaps unsurprising, but there is a need to focus and move beyond this wide-ranging discussion towards a practical relationship that enables the EU and China to advance their interests in international affairs through deeper interaction.

Part of the problem with moving the relationship in this direction lies on the Chinese side where the preference is for gradual progress and rumination. China and the EU interact a great deal at a diplomatic level, but the results do not appear publicly as fruitful as the China-US relationship where the annual strategic and economic dialogue is often welcomed with international fanfare and every senior Sino-American interaction becomes a global spectacle. However, despite appearances, the reality is that neither the US nor the EU are able to get much movement out of China when it does not wish to move. While relations at a working level between the US and their Chinese counterparts may be more in-depth than those with Europe, it is rare to get China to change its ways on an issue due only to diplomatic pressure or interaction.

Why diplomatic links matter

Diplomatic relations between the China and EU – two of the largest human and trading bodies on the planet – are clearly central to international affairs. A strong and proactive bilateral EU-China relationship is something that will be central in helping the world lift itself out of the current economic crisis and handling future problems that may arise.

The thrust behind much of the EU’s diplomatic interaction with China is to advance self-interest, but also partly to buy into Robert Zoellick’s notion of China becoming a more ‘responsible stakeholder’ in global affairs. However, China is only just beginning to accept this notion and generally remains beset with domestic issues that its leadership says should take precedence over international affairs. China will only become engaged when its direct interests are affected and it feels that it can justify its actions before the Chinese public. These are not criteria that necessarily coincide with European diplomatic aims. For example, Europe is very concerned and active diplomatically with regard to the ongoing unrest in Syria and the Iranian nuclear programme. These are both issues in which China has a stake although it is not moving at the speed or in the direction that Europe would necessarily like. And when there is evidence of movement on the Chinese side, it is not at all clear whether it is European diplomacy that has directly achieved these shifts.

There is nevertheless quite a clear confluence in preferred methods of dealing with issues between the EU and China, both of whom prefer non-confrontational methods of dispute resolution and are focused on conflict prevention. While some Member States have in recent years focused on the hard end of diplomacy in international affairs, at an EU level the emphasis remains diplomacy and dialogue – something that generally accords with China’s approach.

Diplomatic relations are a key tool of statecraft, allowing states to interact at a formal level in defined ways that allow for grievances to be aired, agreements reached and positions clarified. Given the crucial importance of the bilateral EU-China economic relationship, it is vital that diplomatic interaction between these two parties continue on the right path. The specific EU-China diplomatic relationship (as opposed to individual Member State bilateral relationships) is particularly important as it provides European states with the gravitas to speak to China as a peer. A nation of Denmark’s size (5.5 million) is better able to guarantee that it will be heard if it speaks within a body representative of more than 500 million citizens (i.e. through the EU). Formal discussions in which the EU is seen as the lead actor are elevated in importance and encourage the Chinese side to be more willing to engage in a practical manner. Currently, this coherence seems insufficient, meaning that it has proved difficult to advance relations into a more practical phase.

This report has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of ECRAN and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.

An article for another new outlet, the Global Times, the more nationalist of the English language newspapers published in China. We are going to see if it comes out in the Chinese edition. While not a subject I have written much about of late, it is one I remain engaged in (EU-China relations) and this specific piece was inspired in reaction to this piece Global Times published  a couple of weeks ago that seems to suggest that Asia is solely the remit of the United States. The broader theme of a need to widen the discussion on Asian affairs is one that features in some of my China-Central Asia research and is something I will return to. Also, look to see some more writing on this topic appear around the upcoming EU-China Summit in September.

Europe’s soft power gives it significant role in Asia

by Raffaello Pantucci

Global Times | August 27, 2012 20:40

Illustration: Sun Ying
Illustration: Sun Ying from here

In the article “European powers no longer have role across Pacific” published on August 15 in the Global Times, Robert M. Farley argues that Europe and NATO are not Pacific powers. But this is predicated on a number of false assumptions. First, that trade and economics are irrelevant, second, that hard power is the only effective way of expressing yourself in the region, and third that in our globalized and increasingly multipolar world, there can be spheres of influence where others should not meddle.

The EU is China’s largest trading partner, with annual trade in 2011 of $567.2 billion, an 18.3 percent increase year-on-year. And while the US may do more trade with the two next largest East Asian powers, Japan and South Korea, the EU’s figures are not insignificant. According to American and European data, in 2011 the US did $194.6 billion in trade with Japan and $100.1 billion in trade with South Korea versus respectively $143.6 billion and $84.4 billion for Europe.
This economic power not only demonstrates why Europe has a keen interest in the region, but also highlights how hard power is not the only way to stay relevant in East Asian and Pacific affairs.
And anyway, the EU does have hard power capacity. Admittedly, the EU lacks the military clout of the US, but it is not a weakling either.
Recent conflicts in North Africa have demonstrated Europe’s capacity and willingness to project military power, and these build on a growing European tendency toward consolidation of hard power. The UK and France have put aside historical enmities to develop an ever-closer defense relationship, and over time this tendency will only increase.
That having this muscular power present in East Asia is the only way to be heard seems a very dangerous assumption to make, one that plays into the hands of hawks who see looming conflict at every turn.
The security situation in the region is tense, but surely the solution to this is to find ways to calm things down rather than ratchet them up. That Europe lacks the baggage of hard power in the region could aid in acting the role of honest broker that might be able to help soothe tensions.
This leads to a final point about the current global order. The whole point of globalization is not only that we can now get everywhere easily and talk to people on the other side of the globe without any difficulty, but it also means that the concept of spheres of influence where single powers have total domination has also passed. No longer can powers say, this is my turf and no one else has a stake.
Similarly in East Asia. While much of what happens in the region seems to be fundamentally a tussle between the US and China, the reality is that European trade will be badly affected if things in the region take a turn for the worst. We end up having an order that is confused and unclear and to speak of strictly defined spheres of interest seems antiquated.
None of this is to advocate an aggressive European return to Asia, but rather to highlight that to simply dismiss Europe as an Asian power on the basis that it does not have as many soldiers or aircraft carriers in the region is to be too hasty. The EU is looked up to by ASEAN members who see a model to emulate, European soft power is hard to miss among the floods of Asian tourists enjoying European capitals and, as illustrated, Europe has a very strong economic interest in regional stability.
To presume that the US is the only power to listen to or that matters when focusing on Asian affairs is to play into the hands of those who only see hard power and tensions.
Europe has always been fundamentally an economic power and as the globe’s economic focus shifts eastward, we will see this power and influence increase, something that will benefit everyone.
Europe has a keen interest in Asia and it is one that will only grow as the world moves beyond the current economic crisis.

The author is a visiting scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

Had a pause in short article writing of late as have been bogged down with larger commitments. However, in the meantime, wrote a couple of short op-eds for what is becoming a regular column for 东方早报 (Oriental Morning Post) touching upon the riots in the UK and the taking of Tripoli last week (with retrospect there are aspects of the UK one that I am less happy about). The English I submitted is below, and before it a link to the Chinese. More longer pieces in the pipeline on terrorism and China.

Lessons from Libya (In Chinese)

This week’s take-over of Tripoli by the rebel forces opposed to General Gadaffi has stirred a mixture of emotions. In the first place, there is a certain gratefulness that events in Libya are moving towards some sort of resolution. But while some in Europe are proud of the role that they played in ousting him from his position in power, there is an underlying sense of concern about what happens next. Nevertheless, it now seems clear that his time in charge of Libya is up and there are some lessons that can be usefully drawn from the experience of ousting him.

First of all, NATO, the EU and the US should be careful to celebrate this victory as their own. While it seems doubtful that the rebels would have done so well without their support, the fact remains that NATO was running out of ammunition and there is a growing uncertainty in Europe about what they are doing in Libya. There is also still no clear sense that Europe went into Libya with any sort of a clear strategy. All of this is a reflection of weakness rather than success.

Secondly, success in intervening here does not mean NATO now has to (or wants to) intervene in Syria. This is not hypocritical or evidence of double standards. The reality is that you can only become involved where you can make a difference and where you have support. No one liked Gadaffi so support was easy to find, and support came in the form of low-risk airstrikes in support of rebels that shielded NATO from too many casualties on the ground. All easily manageable. Syria, however, would be a very different proposition – quite aside from having a different capacity to respond (Syria is a longtime supporter of militant groups outside its borders), there is nowhere near the consensus in the international community. And of course there is the reality that NATO forces are now stretched over two battlefields (and subsidiary operations in Cote d’Ivoire and Iraq).

The point is that the reality on the ground is different. To call this hypocritical is simplistic and somehow assumes that we live in a world where absolute and universal rules apply. The world is complex and requires different responses that are often dictated by capacity. A one-size fits all policy in international relations is a recipe for disaster.

Thirdly, UN sanctions and resolutions do not equal armed intervention. In this case, it now seems clear that NATO, the EU and the US decided to take the initial sanctions against Gadaffi to their furthest possible point. This meant in the first place to protect Misrata and the other parts of the country Gadaffi had said he was going to crush, and secondly to support a rebellion to oust a leader who had mismanaged his country for four decades. This is a specific set of reactions to a specific situation. In other instances where sanctions have been imposed nothing has followed – for example, Iran, where the EU and US continue to push sanctions – there has been no subsequent military intervention. This means that we need not fear that sanctions against the Syrian regime would necessarily lead to conflict on the ground.

Chinese friends I have spoken to express a great sense of confusion over what the EU and US think they are doing in Libya. They see vast amounts of money being spent with no clear outcome. They worry precedents are being set in international policy that may lead to other problems down the line. While some of these concerns are well placed (going in with no apparent plan as NATO did is certainly not sound policy), the overarching point that they are missing is that a bad dictator has been removed from power and is no longer destroying his own country. In time a new democratically elected government will emerge that will mean that Libya is finally able to interact with the world on its own terms. This is an outcome that is in everyone’s favor. What this does not mean is that this is going to be the strategy that will be pursued in every situation.

Anarchy in Europe (In Chinese)

Britain ablaze, Greece on strike, and lunatics planting bombs and shooting people in Oslo – Europe seems an increasingly dangerous and chaotic place. But what is behind this growing anarchy, and why it is suddenly expressing itself with such fury now?

There are a number of reasons: from social disaffection and anger, to economic hardship and disenfranchisement, to a general anger at elites that it is no longer felt represent the public. It is not, as some have suggested, all a cause and effect from the economic crisis, but rather it is a complex set of issues that all feed off each other to create a multiplier effect that explodes in the violence that we can still see on London’s streets today.

To start with my hometown, London: the trouble there started off as a peaceful public protest in a community with tense relations between police and locals after police shot and killed a young man. This event appears to have been hijacked by local youths and petty criminals who used this as a pretext to launch a violent assault on city centers taking advantage of the opportunity to loot and steal as much as they could. This in turn inspired other communities to launch copycat efforts around the country and the end result has been chaos in major British cities.

It is far too early to say exactly why this has all taken place, but a part of it is clearly anger is directed at ruling elites that are perceived have no connection to the community. Similar, but much less violent expressions of displeasure were seen last year during protests linked to the government decision to charge for university places. This group has moved beyond an expression of political anger to wanton destruction. But nonetheless one of the direct causes of the current trouble are local tensions between police and the community.

This anger at elites is further reflected in the current protests and strikes across Europe, including the months long sit-ins taking place in Spain and the repeated stoppages in Greece and Italy. In all these nations, the publics are tired of listening to politicians that they do not feel represent them. Many young feel that they simply do not have a place in society or cannot get good jobs and end up migrating elsewhere to seek their fortunes. In an ironic twist, in Belgium, the situation has gotten so bad that the nation has not had an elected government for over a year – instead a technocratic administration has managed the nation. In the capital where the EU has its bureaucratic heart, the local government has very little credibility with its domestic audience.

On the more dangerous end of the scale are individuals like Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian self-styled crusader who was so angered at his government’s allowing of Muslim immigrants into the nation that he decided to punish the ruling party. Using a massive car bomb in the city center followed by a shooting of a group of young aspirant politicians, Breivik’s act was in retaliation for what he sees as the conquering of Europe by Muslims and the fact that no-one in Europe is doing anything about it. He particularly blamed the ruling Labor Party in Norway for letting this happen, and consequently targeted them for punishment in late July of this year.

The running thread through all of this is mistrust in government – something that is going to be further accentuated as economies collapse and debt numbers go through the roof. European publics have already stopped voting in elections in ever increasing numbers, now they are turning to other ways of expressing their distaste in their governments. There are clear lessons here for government’s about the importance of finding ways to connect with their publics.

Not the actual title of my latest article for Oriental Morning Post (东方早报), but instead the title of an article in the Telegraph that quoted my recent ISN piece. Wen’s trip to Europe also elicited an interview with Reuters, which they used a small quote from that was picked up in a variety of places. In any case, here is the link to the Dongfang Zaobao piece (in Chinese), and below is the text I drafted in English.

Premier Wen Jiabao returns from his latest European trip with a raft of new deals and contracts with old European friends. In contracts geared to bring benefits to both sides, Premier Wen’s trip led to the signing of deals worth $15 billion in Germany (part of which was a purchase of some 88 Airbus planes), $4 billion in the UK and $1.8 billion in Hungary. He also announced the establishment of $2.8 billion fund to support cooperation between Small to Medium sized Enterprises (SME) in China and Germany and a special loan of $1.4 billion to support similar relations between Chinese and Hungarian firms. But while these deals show the strength of the Sino-European relationship, the fact that they are the big issues to come away from Premier Wen’s trip to Europe shows the relatively immaturity of the EU-China relationship. This is not a “strategic partnership” with any depth.

The blame for this is two-fold. On the one hand, Europe has not managed to clarify its decision-making processes yet. The selection of Herman van Rompuy as President of the EU and Catherine Ashton as Foreign Minister was a conscious choice by the member states of the European Union to maintain authority over Brussels, the traditional seat of power in the EU. Neither are known as being aggressive leaders, and the member states have continued to use Brussels when it is useful and ignore it when it is not. The result has been to confuse matters with outside partners uncertain of whether they should focus their efforts on the member states or Brussels when they are looking for a partner to talk to in Europe.

But at the same time, China remains a hesitant actor on the world stage. Unless dealing with obvious trade or economic questions or issues that are seen as “core interests,” China is not a very certain actor in international relations. The traditional policy is one of “non-interference”: but as a Chinese colleague put it to me the other day this can also mean, “not doing anything.” The end result is that as China’s interests in the world are expanding, its capacity and ambition to do anything have not matched this growth. This has led to trips like this latest one to Europe, where big trade deals have been signed while there has been little serious discussion about anything else.

This is unfortunate, as both China and Europe share interests in the world beyond trade. To look at Libya, both suffered greatly as a result of Colonel Gadaffi’s slow strangling of his nation and the subsequent chaos that it caused. China lost unknown billions in investment and had to suddenly evacuate tens of thousands of citizens. Europe had to evacuate less people, but nevertheless lost a major energy supplier and an equally substantial investment. While now there is some divergence on how to address the problems that the chaos in Libya has thrown up, there is clearly a joint interest in making things better and in establishing ways that such situations can be avoided in the future.

And beyond Africa, both China and Europe clearly have a keen interest in making sure that things in Afghanistan and Pakistan calm down considerably from their current tense tempo. While clearly it is the US that is the lead actor in AfPak at the moment, both China and Europe have active interests in ensuring stability prevails and some discussion of what they want to do there in the longer term might be a good idea. And it is not only geopolitical questions that are important: climate change remains an crucial issue to both, but aside from discussions of developing green technologies, there was surprisingly little conversation between China and her European interlocutors on this topic this time around.

All of this is a missed opportunity, as clearly China is coming to a period of reconsidering its position in the world, while Europe is figuring out how to do more with fewer assets. A moment that would lend itself to more comprehensive consultations between Chinese and European leaders than the trade and economics show that just took place.

The point is simple: trade between nations will always take place. In a globalized world, men will always sell things to each other across borders. If we want to make this into a truly “strategic partnership” however, then we need to deepen the seriousness of our discussions beyond this realm. In this way, the EU-China relationship can live up to its long-missed potential.

A new post for Whose World Order? this time based around comments I heard at an event I attended in Shanghai. Very interesting debate, more of which will feature in future posts once I get around to writing them. Note the quote that I left under the original post, a lovely quote I meant to include but omitted. Oh well.

Shanghai View: China as an external actor

Date: 30th June 2011  |  Author: Raffaello Pantucci,

Categories: ChinaMiddle East And North Africa,
Tags: None

Recently, with Jonas Parello Plesner, I wrote a policy paper in which we suggested that China’s reaction to Libya was something that reflected the glimmers of a new foreign policy direction for China. While I have since had some push back from foreign friends who tell me that we are focusing too much on one instance to read a bigger trend, I listened to an interesting presentation by a Chinese friend the other day in which he berated his leadership for their incapacity to act on the international stage.

The presentation came during a two-day conference on what Afghanistan was going to look like post- the US withdrawal. The event itself was a small discussion with long presentations and short discussions. Two elements leapt out at me: first was the fact that over two days of discussions (with mostly Chinese speakers) there was next to no outline of what a Chinese strategy towards Afghanistan (or Pakistan) might look like, and second, the final presentation by a Chinese friend that was a full-on broadside at China’s inactive foreign policy. In no uncertain terms he said that non-interference was another way of saying, “do nothing at all.”

With specific reference to Libya, he praised the successful evacuation of Chinese citizens, but also quoted Churchill’s comments after Dunkirk, that “wars are not won by evacuations.” In fact, he was rather condemning of the fact that it had taken the Chinese government so long to reach out to the rebel’s side when it was clear that they were headed for victory in the long run. Gadaffi was a busted flush, and the Chinese government (that has never liked Gadaffi for various reasons – his support of Taiwan, his former foreign minister’s comments about Chinese colonialism in Africa and Gadaffi’s own comments comparing what he was doing to Tiananmen Square), should have taken less than 80 days to get around to reaching out to the other side.

And the problems were not solely linked to indecision: there was also a very basic lack of capacity within the government in foreign policy terms. People had no idea about the Sunni-Shia difference and there was incomprehension about why the Iranians and the Saudis hated each other so much. This is something I have also heard in industry, where the big State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), have difficulties figuring out whom to send abroad to run their factories or branches since their staff have very little experience with the world. The government has been advocating for companies to reach out to gain managerial capacity and expertise from American or European counterparts.

Overall, his sense (and that of most participants) was that China had generally chosen to abrogate its policy in the Middle East and North Africa since it was a bit too far from home and it was a European/American sphere of interest. While China may have interests there, there was no particular interest in the body politic to actually go out and do anything about this. Instead, the focus was domestic, or more generally focused on waiting to see how things shake out over time while continuing to pursue new investments where they can be advanced.

But the problem with this is two-fold: first of all, this means China will wander into more situations like Libya where almost $20 billion has been written off and 30,000+ people have been evacuated at great expense and effort at short notice. And/or secondly, China will be obliged to simply go around paying people off to protect their interests in the world. The problem with this of course is that pay-offs will simply attract more predators. After it was discovered that the Italian government would tend to pay for its people who were being kidnapped in Iraq or North Africa, Italians were more actively targeted.

The discussion did not particularly come to an absolute conclusion. Instead, it circled around a group of serious thinkers who all seemed to agree with the broad conclusion that China’s foreign policy needed adjustment and in a more proactive direction. While a fellow foreign participant who was new to discussions with China was quite alarmed by this, in many ways it struck me as a potentially positive shift, showing China’s growing willingness to mature as a foreign policy actor. This was not quite the “responsible stakeholder” that Robert Zoellick had called for, but it was the inklings of a China that saw its interests lay beyond its borders as well. How it advances them, however, will be the subject of discussion for the next five years at least.