By Jacob Sienar. Originally published on 2013/01/18

The first week of November brought some changes which will impact global politics. Two major powers in the world, the USA and China, elected their leaders, who will lead their countries for the next few years. These leaders will be shaping their national and international policies. The relationships of these two nations will be a primary factor in world politics in the following years and decades.

However, I am not going to speak about mutual relations between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United States of America. I want to touch on a different matter here – the relations of China with another international entity. Although the economic power of this entity is considerable, it is not a major player on the international stage, primarily due to a lack of consistent and cohesive foreign policy.

I am referring to the European Union (EU), of course. . In terms of total GDP, the EU is the largest economic powerhouse in the world – even bigger than the United States. When taken as a whole, the national economies of the member states outmatch both the US or China. Given this fact, it presents the question of why the EU is not a more influential player on the international economic front.

Unlike the US and the PRC, the EU is a supranational entity. The European Union is comprised of a community of nations, each with their own international policies. These international policies sometimes are in direct contradiction to each other, which can lead to internal confusion, as well as evading the opportunity to present a united, cohesive front to the rest of the international community.

However, major trends in the external policies of the EU are common, and they are moving towards centralization, particularly under the auspices of the European Commission. This trend makes it possible to reasonably discuss Sino-European relations.

In the USA, Barack Obama has won re-election and will remain the President of the United States for the next four years. In the PRC, the process of transitioning power from one government to the next one is more complicated. During the Eighteenth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the Politburo Standing Committee will be reduced in size from nine members to seven. Additional notable changes include President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao stepping down from their positions in a standing committee, to be replaced by Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, respectively. Jinping and Kequiang were tapped-up for their respective  positions by the General Congress of the Chinese Communist Party on November 14 2012. . Their terms of office will begin in March 2013 and will last five years, to be renewed once consecutively.

The elections in China and the USA will surely affect their relations with Europe. They will affect trade balances and political ties in the next few years. It is an appropriate milestone point to sum up and highlight bilateral relations between China and the EU; relations which remain mostly unknown to the wider populace, both here in the Europe and around the world.

A Romance with the Dragon

The relations between China and the European Union were established in 1975 during the visit of the then-EEC Commissioner for External Relations and Trade Christopher Soames. Relations between the EEC (European Economic Community) and China developed quite slowly, due to the fact that relations with China were not as high a priority to the EEC as relations with the USA in post-Cold War era Europe. However, China’s quick economic growth raised European interests in a closer relationship.

Current Sino-European relations are based upon the 1985 EU/China Trade Agreement, which later developed into the Strategic Partnership, encompassing such sectors as foreign affairs, security matters, and international challenges such as climate change and governance of the global economy as a whole.

The keystone to the Sino-European relationships is trade. In 1993 China was already the fourth largest trading partner of the EU, and even throughout the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, trade growth reached levels of fifteen percent. Currently, China is the second-largest trading partner of the EU, second only to the USA. However, the EU is China’s largest trading market, worth over $400 billion USD and still growing.

There have been disputes, of course, such as the dispute over the importation of textiles into the EU. That process will be described later on in this article. Disputes notwithstanding, the EU and China are increasingly seeking international cooperation and trade opportunities with each other. A prime example of this is China investing €230 million into the Galileo project and purchasing Airbus planes; in return, Airbus agreed to locate a construction site in China. Following the 2006 visit of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, China placed an order for a hundred and fifty Airbus planes.

From that perspective, Euro-Chinese relations might seem to be almost flawless. However, if we look more carefully at the details, frictions and misunderstandings occur. Both, the EU and China are considered to be growing powers in the post cold war world. The economic cooperation between these two world powers, enables them to work closer together in other sectors, despite the totally different standpoints. The People’s Republic of China and the European Union have distinct ways of thinking starting from a code of values and beliefs, political regimes and a different calculation of gains and losses, which underline the problems caused in mutual relations. Some of those issues could be solved in the coming years through expert dialogue and mutual partnership, as we have seen used previously. Despite these rather difficult contacts, both sides feel attracted to each other by the mutual benefits achieved thanks to mainly economical cooperation.

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About the author:

Born in Warsaw, Poland, a graduate of the Political Science with focus on European Administration. Currently a student of the European Law at Maastricht University. He is also writing for The Political Bouillon, an EST partner. His major interest is the foreign policy of the European Union.

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