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President David Fouquet on China-EU Relations

President David Fouquet on China-EU Relations

Author:Def author From:Site author Update:2019-09-18 15:05:58

David Fouquet Is President of the European Institute for Asian Studies. He had a long career as a journalist covering foreign, security and economic relations for leading publications, such as The Washington Post, Newsweek and Janes Defence Weekly in Washington, London and Brussels. He then became a consultant for major international companies, lecturer and writer concentrating on European-Asian relations since the mid-1990s. He has been involved in EU-sponsored international projects, lectured and participated in conferences throughout Asia and Europe.


Q: How would you evaluate the current situation of the China-EU relations?

A: On balance positive, maturing and addressing most issues whether at the EU-China level or between China and Member States. What I mean is that they are in a phase where they have become more normal and less dramatic. They are sorting out the differences between short-term crisis management and longer-term strategic challenges. The EU has such relationships with partners such as the US or Japan, despite some major differences with them as well.

But there is certainly no room for complacency, because in all such complex and intense relationships, there are a multitude of challenging problems. To different interests, constituencies or communities on each side these problems may be existential and they want to prioritise and dramatise these, so they have to be addressed.

To borrow a phrase from another domain, the EU-China relationship may be “too big to fail” but it has its flaws and flashpoints. To summarise, on the European side it could be some trade or economic issues, although the balance of trade has been improving, global diplomatic issues, or internal governance or political rights questions. From China’s viewpoint there may be persistent questions regarding the contagion of European economic distress, ongoing policies perceived as “double standards” and differences on global governance and conduct.

At the EU level, there are both the High Level Strategic and Economic Dialogue and the fifty or so Sectorial Dialogues that create the balance I was referring to. But neither has been able to resolve   long-standing problems or many of the sporadic brushfire crises. They serve to give the impression that matters are under official control. But we, as specialists and scholars, may observe situations differently, and even anticipate the worst and prepare contingency plans or options, before anything gets out of hand. We need time, but time is not always available or on our side either.

For example, the negotiations on a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA), which both began several years ago, are either dead, moribund or paralysed and not even referred to anymore, without much explanation to the public on either side. There are also now bilateral negotiations on an investment accord which should also be more fully explained and analysed. The impact of the multitude of free trade agreements we are both establishing in the region should also be examined.

Q: As an expert on security issues, how would you suggest that China and the EU can cooperate in the security area?

A: On the board security sector, which includes both the traditional “hard” state and military side, as well as the non-traditional more human security level, there have been ongoing EU-China talks for some years. The EU Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Catherine Ashton and State Counsellor Dai Bing Guo have been meeting regularly, as well as other specialists. The EU-China Summit in February also agreed to intensify such dialogue and to hold a special conference on  the subject in the future, without giving further details.

The EU, with few exceptions, has in recent decades traditionally believed it had no major security interests or the capability to be a security presence in the Asia-Pacific. It does not have military   forces, bases or assets in the region. That is because it collectively does not define itself as a military power, but a civilian one, even if some of its individual member states may be significant middle military powers.

But it has been since the end of the cold war developing new tools, techniques and concepts aimed at allowing it to be a presence in international security issues with a civilian approach to conflict or crisis prevention. It has conducted a number of international missions under its Common Foreign and Security Policy. Most of these have been in its priority security regions, in the Balkans, Africa, the Middle East, even Afghanistan. These tend to be low-intensity or civilian police or training missions. It has played a key role in the peace process in Indonesia’s Aceh Province and is also active in assisting the difficult peace process in the Philippines’ Mindanao province.  These are never interventions and always with the approval of the host nation. But one could possibly see some advisory or financial assistance to a peaceful solution to the continuing ethnic conflicts in Myanmar for example.

Two recent developments have marked major events in the evolution of Europe’s security identity. One was the intervention by NATO in Libya, largely at the instigation of France and Britain, under a UN Security  Council “Responsibility to Protect” mandate, which led to the overthrow of the Khadfi government. The other is the adoption by EU Ministers in June of updated Strategy Guidelines for East Asia. 

Both these could be seen as important to the EU role as security actor in general and in Asia specifically, but they should be explained and analysed more thoroughly. China has also been giving increased attention in recent years to non-traditional security issues and missions. To me that would open up new scope for consultation and possible cooperation between the EU and China. I believe the two areas I have just mentioned would be worthy of dialogues and exchanges at both the official, military and non-official level.

Other key areas I would like to see on this agenda, in additional to the more traditional proliferation, piracy or peacekeeping topics, would be such areas as the peaceful uses of outer space which the EU has drafted a code of conduct on and that China has great reservations about, cybersecurity which has generated considerable interest everywhere and should be the subject of serious international negotiations.

The subject of arms sales in general could be another subject for bilateral consultations. The EU has backed the UN effort on a new conventional arms sale limitation treaty which China is also hesitant about. But the subject is of widespread international concern. The European embargo on arms sales to China is an area that should be dedramatised and discussed, just as much as the extensive European arms sales to many other countries in the Asia-Pacific region.

Q: Some say that the debt crisis in Europe has provided a good opportunity for China and the EU to move closer as the EU needs help from China.  Don't you think so?  If China can help the EU, in what way?

A: Although the two are intimately related, perhaps the EU-China engagement in the European debt and economic crisis and what might be termed more normal economic and trade relations should be examined separately. We also need to think at both the national and the regional levels, and the international economic or industrial chain levels. There are short-term measures and longer-term measures that need to be sequenced on all sides. Again, there is broad scope for consultation and cooperation, beginning with the need to fix the international and economic system, although I don’t think I see any real appetite for that either in Europe or China.

A major impediment is that everyone still has too many vested interests in their system that inspires an aversion to risk despite evident flaws and dramatic consequences. We in Europe and the West are still in the midst of a dramatic and historic upheaval, but can’t agree on the remedy, much less the solution. I think we need to concentrate on the so-called real economy, but we also need to invent a truly new financial system to replace the one that failed us.

But in the meantime, we are all in this together at different levels and should be trying to approach problems on a concerted basis as well as taking responsibility for their own economies and social systems. Back in 2008 when the first wave of the crisis broke, Europeans rushed to China for help. Of course no one could come to the rescue with a quick fix. But I don’t think the role and effort China made in the meantime has been understood. The stream of Ministerial visits and trade and business delegations, I think, were unmatched by other partners.

Q:  Many people say that, in the past, Europe was the "teacher", offering advice and opinions to the developing countries; now, it is a "student",accepting advice, lessons and even criticism from others. How would you comment on the changing positions of Europe?

A: The EU has been “lectured” by its partners in Washington, Beijing, at the G20 and on other occasions, and there has been considerable criticism in Europe itself. It’s always easier to be giving such advice than receiving it, which may have been a more traditional role for the EU.

It’s of course part of the shift in power and influence in the world in which Europe and the rest of the developed world have seen their economic and political models shaken and questioned. Some of the remarks are certainly well-founded, but some seem as if they are misplaced or amount to finding someone else to blame, a game which is only too human.

But let’s just assume that we all have a lot to learn and should be pleased to have good, constructive advice. Let’s also remember that what Europe has been trying to do for decades is a rare form of cooperation, integration and governance on a regional level that there are no blueprints for, so it’s all too easy to make mistakes. The reaction of the international community is of course important, but perhaps the most important reaction is from the European public and population itself…and unfortunately the international financial markets and establishments, both of which can be harsh and unforgiving.

Another important element is whose advice we should take when there is plenty to choose from and even specialists disagree and contradict themselves. I personally think it’s going to be a long time before we get out of this crisis and things may never be the same afterwards. So it is important to make historical adjustments to avoid perpetuating the burden of this crisis onto future generations.

Q: In order to further promote our bilateral relations, what should China do? What should the EU do?

A: It sounds as if you are asking for advice, for which I am grateful but hesitant to give in view of our earlier comments about lectures, lessons and sensitivities. Every society, economy and culture has its own choices to make. But we are all connected and implicated, so if I may, speaking of my own personal interest, I would suggest that an important symbolic gesture for China to make would be to ratify and implement the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which it signed in 1995 and which CASS and others have studied intensively. While I am at it, it should do the utmost to reassure its neighbours about its military modernization by publishing a detailed defence budget and engage in international dialogue looking toward confidence-building measures and eventual codes of conduct or treaties as mentioned above on cybersecurity, space, maritime and other rules of the road. My business friends in Europe would also have requests regarding what they refer to as a “level playing field” in competition.

I am sure that China wants Europe to lift the arms embargo and grant market economy status, which I also feel damages relations and has little positive influence, but which will probably not happen soon.

I think both sides also need to be more transparent and articulate about their strategic intentions, in order to seek what former US Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg referred to as “strategic reassurance.” In that light I believe there is also much to be done regarding media coverage and public perceptions and stereotypes.

Q: You have rich experiences in journalism, politics, academics, etc.  What would you say to the young Chinese scholars in the field of European studies? How can they become more academically competent?

A: I always tell young students or colleagues the most important quality to have is curiosity. It is essential in following issues and thoughts. I also insist that there is no such thing as “the truth.” There are a variety, even a multitude of perceptions, opinions and partial information, also influenced by what social scientists refer to as “cognitive bias,” or personal cultural or societal prejudices. To try to address that problem and others such as egocentrism or double standards, I think it is important to try to put yourself in the other person’s position. That includes visiting, studying and living in another society and culture.

I general, I have been impressed by the interest and engagement of China and its institutions to understand Europe. But I believe that like any other entity, including China, or the smallest of other entities, it is unique.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to express myself in what I hope is only the first of a long dialogue.

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