EU-China relations: a maturing partnership
This document is intended to stimulate relations between the EU and China, and contribute to guidance for policy and EU activities over the coming years. Its recurrent concerns are with the integration of China into the international community and world economy, support for a transition towards the rule of law, improved use of resources and increased EU visibility in China.
Commission guidance document of September 10 entitled "A maturing partnership - shared interests and challenges in EU-China relations" (updating of Commission communications of 1998 and 2001 on EU-China relations) [COM(2003) 533 final - Not published in the Official Journal].
This document, adopted by the Council on 13 October 2003, reviews the achievements of the 2001 strategy towards China, and the 1998 document aimed at establishing a "global partnership" with the country. The Commission believes that the overall objectives are still largely valid, but recognises the need to update the action plan.
The new maturity of this relationship is based on closer coordination. The range of issues has widened, political dialogue has evolved and a number of sectoral agreements have been concluded. In the current climate, there is undeniable interest in acting as strategic partners, given the increasing importance of both actors on the world stage and their converging positions, particularly with regard to the essential role of organisations and multilateral systems.
Charting a course for EU action
The document sets out five priority areas, each accompanied by its context, its implementation since 2001 and the new actions proposed by the EU and China. The first is shared responsibilities in promoting global governance. According to the Commission, China could play a fundamental role in reconciling the interests of developing and developed countries, and in promoting peace and stability in Asia.
With an increasingly active and constructive foreign policy, China has seen how well the measures proposed by the 2001 strategy have progressed. Political dialogue has been strengthened, with priority on human rights and participation in it diversified. Issues concerning Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao have also been addressed, as have disarmament and global environmental issues.
Co-operation on Burma/Myanmar, illegal migration and trafficking in human beings has been stepped up. On the issue of trafficking, the Commission wants to conclude a readmission agreement.
New actions proposed by the Commission in this area include reinforced political dialogue that stresses quality over quantity through the organisation of more frequent consultations, and the coordination of Member States' policies towards China, putting China on the agenda in the EU's dialogue with certain third countries.
There are three levels of priorities for political dialogue:
- bilateral: human rights, finding a solution to the question of Tibet, illegal migration, greater cooperation in areas of justice and home affairs, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan;
- regional: strengthening cooperation on issues of mutual concern in the region as regards to assuring peace and security, a continuation of China's dynamic approach in the ASEM process, enhancing consultations with China on the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) to reinforce the ARF's role on regional security issues;
- global: more frequent dialogue on global governance issues, the promotion of a coordinated approach and of joint EU-China initiatives, the promotion of multilateralism, of security, non-proliferation/disarmament issues, strengthened dialogue on counter-terrorism, collaboration in the face of global environmental challenges and joint research into SARS.
The second activity is supporting China's transition to an open society based upon the rule of law and the respect for human rights. China has made progress towards the rule of law, and civil society has developed significantly. There is, however, still a significant gap between the current human rights situation in China and internationally accepted standards. Although EU-China dialogue has borne fruit, through the organisation of seminars, exchanges of views and assistance programmes, there are still issues to be resolved, such as the death penalty, administrative detention and torture. Freedom of expression, of religion and of association and the rights of minorities are still causes for concern.
The proposed new actions involve stepping up cooperation projects to complement the dialogue. This dialogue should be carried out at junior minister level, focusing on areas that are lagging behind, placing emphasis on increased visibility and transparency, and promoting exchanges between experts. Cooperation programmes should revolve around human rights and good governance, with training programmes for legal professionals, and a sharing of know-how and ensuring that it is widely applied. A third aspect involves support for civil society, encouraging contacts and providing assistance for capacity-building and the creation of networks.
Promoting China's economic opening at home and abroad is the third activity proposed. China's integration into the world economy is in everyone's interest, and the Commission is eager to assist in the process. In the wake of its accession to the WTO in 2001, China has benefited greatly from globalisation, becoming a powerhouse of economic growth for the region.
Despite progress in internal reform, some problems remain. They are mainly linked to market access, services, the enforcement of intellectual property rights and adherence to international standards. Reform and opening have been accompanied by a significant rise in unemployment and underemployment, creating a sizeable rural-urban divide.
In 2001, an EU network was created to track China's implementation of WTO commitments, with regular consultations and joint studies. Sectoral dialogue has also been stepped up, notably with regard to industrial products, the information society, environmental policies, research and the promotion of human development. New bilateral agreements have been drawn up for maritime transport and the "authorised destination status". Proposals for agreements on administrative assistance for satellite navigation have also been set up.
The Commission believes that new actions are required in the following areas:
- the WTO, trade and investment; The Commission is putting forward various initiatives for the adoption of WTO commitments, the Doha Development Agenda, regional integration, intellectual property rights, support for initiatives from Community industry, and other measures linked directly to trade;
- sectoral issues, including industrial products, the information society, sanitary and phyto-sanitary questions, energy and environmental policies, nuclear research, science and technology, the ITER fusion research project and a cooperation agreement in the framework of the Galileo satellite navigation project;
- economic and social reform; The Commission proposes supporting reforms in all these areas, promoting exchanges of experience in areas of regional and macroeconomic policies, a cooperation project for the reform of social security, dialogue on industrial policy and efforts to involve civil society more closely.
The fourth activity is the EU-China Co-operation Programme - a mutually beneficial partnership underpinning EU objectives. China is part of many Union-financed programmes in the Asian region (the Asia Information Technology and Communication Programme, Asia-Invest, Asia-Link, etc.), which has improved its cooperation with the Union. There is, however, a delay in the implementation of the National Indicative Programme (NIP) for 2002-2004, and the Commission therefore proposes completing the mid-term NIP review and drawing up a new programme to cover 2005-2006. The Chinese authorities should be involved in its preparation, and the multiannual approach should be maintained. Coordination with, and consideration of existing horizontal assistance programmes is also needed.
The fifth and final activity aims at increased EU visibility in China. The increasing access of individual Chinese citizens to sources of information should allow the EU get its message across. The Commission proposes to concentrate on four points: sharing China's concern for a more balanced international order, the defence of a number of shared values, support for reforms underway in China, and the fact that the EU is a major global trading power and market.
Further Commission proposals in this domain include a series of activities such as a study of the perception of the EU in China, spreading more information, raising awareness in China of EU cooperation with China, and reinforcing people-to-people exchanges. Rationalising the current institutional structure, and prioritising quality and effective coordination are other concerns for which the Commission has solutions to propose.
For further information about EU-China relations, please visit the DG RELEX website.