china-debateEU-China relations have been tested recently, not least with regards to a controversial EU carbon tax on airlines flying through European airspace. The tax has been resisted by China and others (including India), who argue that the EU has exceeded its jurisdiction by applying the full tax on flights that are only partly in its airspace. For its part, EU leaders are frustrated with the slow progress being made internationally in terms of cutting aviation greenhouse emissions. Analysts warn that, if the EU does not back down, there is a risk of a trade war developing as China retaliates (see, for example, the recent suspension of orders for new European-manufactured airplanes by China). If, as many predict, China’s rise heralds a new multipolar world order, do European policy-makers and citizens understand this new reality?

In our last debate on the rise of China, we had a comment from André, who said: “I’ve got the impression that the EU is not prepared for China’s rise just yet. It often addresses China either as an economic threat or as a human rights violator. To have truly fruitful cooperation with China, the EU should move away from its prejudices, try to understand Chinese culture better and interact with it.“ We took this comment to Martin Jacques, British academic and author of the book When China Rules the World: The End of the Western World and the Birth of a New Global Order, and asked him how he would respond to André’s comment.

I want to say that I strongly identify with the sentiments from André. Essentially, until maybe now, the European Union has had a rather haughty attitude towards China. It’s looked down upon China. It thinks that Europe is the cradle of civilization, that China is possessed of little or none of this. We’ve had frequent examples of EU and national leaders lecturing the Chinese on matters of government. I’m very confident that most of the people doing this lecturing know very little about China. We must move beyond this and start looking at China on its own terms.

Next, we had a comment from Leonardo arguing that: “Europe would not be worried about China if Europe turned into a knowledge economy.” Could this be a way for Europe to remain competitive?

Strategically, the idea that Europe should specialise in a knowledge economy because China will struggle to compete in this field is a misnomer. It’s certainly true that Europe currently has a comparative advantage, but we’d be living in an illusion if we thought this will continue indefinitely. China is rapidly advancing up the value chain and the Chinese have a huge commitment in higher education.

The other point to add here is that if you look at the figures for the proportion of GDP spent on R&D in China, it’s been growing very rapidly. So I think we’ll find China competing with us across the board, not just on manufacturing. I don’t think there’s a simple solution. I think that the rise of China will be economically quite bracing for Europe, in the sense we will be forced to change our behaviour in a lot of ways. There’s a cultural complacency in Europe. We’ve been protected in a lot of ways because much of the world was ours to use and abuse, but this is no longer possible. Europe is going to be facing some very big challenges, and it has to face them openly and head-on. There’s no hiding place, there’s no wall. It has to face the new reality in a dynamic and engaged fashion, not frightened; confident, but not complacent. It will shake us up a lot. 

We also had a couple of comments arguing that Europe and China are natural allies in a multipolar world. Rashid argued that “China considers Europe its strategic ally. The rise of China, therefore, does not threaten Europe.” Pawel, likewise, thought that “Europe is a natural ally for China in putting up an effective framework for the new century.”

I think that what both Rashid and Pawel say has definitely some elements of truth. The question is, will these considerations predominate over others. The starting point, as I see it, is that Europe has, for 200 years, been a dominant presence in the world. The US was a product of European civilization and this was solidified during the Cold War. That’s why we talk in terms of “The West”. There are historical, political and cultural reasons why this entity exists and is sustained. The question is, in a very new world marked by the decline of the US and Europe and the rise of China and other developing nations, will the West feel increasingly that it needs to fight to retain its dominance? This is going to be a very interesting question, I think.

We also had a comment sent in from Jimmy arguing that China is going to struggle with many of the same problems affecting Western economies as it develops. Whilst its economy is booming now, Jimmy argues that political and social faultlines will be under greater pressure and “ancient tribalism” will risk tearing the country apart. Is this a real risk, or just wishful thinking?

Partly wishful thinking and some truth. As China becomes more wealthy, the life of the Chinese will change. As China moves up the value chain, and its production requires more specialisation, it’s growth rates will fall. The future will not be an extrapolation of what the Chinese economy has done over the last 30 years, that is true. However, I think the best way of looking at the question is this: the Chinese economy is predicted to overtake the US in five or six years. Even then, the Chinese people will have a standard of living just over a quarter of that in the West. If the Chinese are ever to arrive at the same standard of living as the US, then China’s economy will have to be four times that of the US. So, undoubtedly, China has some tough challenges ahead of it.

We also put some of your comments to Tom Miller, Managing Editor of China Economic Quarterly and author of the book China’s Urban Billion, to get another perspective. How would he respond to André’s comment that European policy-makers don’t understand China?

What about the argument from Jimmy that the social and political challenges that China faces are going to impede its growth? Again, is this just wishful thinking? How real are the challenges facing China?

Finally, we spoke to Portuguese Socialist MEP Ana Maria Gomes and asked her a question we received on Twitter from Carmen: “Should Europe feel vulnerable and threatened by China’s rapidly growing influence?

I don’t think so. I think that Europe should welcome the fact that China is more relevant globally and more assertive. But, that said, Europe should not be afraid to speak up clearly and frankly with China whenever Europe feels China is not meeting its commitments and obligations as a global power; be it in the WTO, and not living up its commitments with respect to trade terms, or disregarding labour obligations and core labour rights or in the political arena, namely in the UN Security Council, when China is not living up to its obligations in terms of human rights, not just regarding the Chinese people but also other peoples. I see China’s membership of the Security Council as giving it higher obligations than normal members of the UN. That concerns the practices of China inside China, but also in its relations with the rest of the world. For example, I don’t like to see China blocking action in the Security Council regarding the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

What do YOU think? Do Europeans understand China’s rise and what it means for them? Or is there a cultural complacency in Europe because of our history? Is China a threat or a natural ally to Europe? And should we be seeing China on its own terms, instead of just through a lens of human rights abuser or economic threat? Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their response.


35 comments Post a commentComment


  1. Karel Van Isacker

    China is an economic partner that we need to approach from the inside: setting up factories there. Their currency policy does not allow to compete with them otherwise.

  2. Jan Dik

    Despite the fact that China’s economy is shining,its people still live below poverty line!!!

  3. Mikko Karjalainen

    Both, at the moment. US is our “ally” but also our rival. It has been in the interest of US to keep Europe small and fragmented. Stronger China is a threat to themselves and US. Lack of democracy may lead into violence and US may not be willing to become 2nd strongest power in the pacific/world. But in the end, we need Chinese brains to speed up our scientific and technological revolution.

  4. Debating Europe

    Hi @Ivan. Debating Europe has a comment policy to delete comments if they include threats of physical violence, swearing or personal abuse. We don’t delete criticism, but we do ask our commenters to be respectful and mature with others.

  5. Ivan Burrows

    @Debating Europe

    Given that I am not taken to abusive, violent or malicious posting could you explain why mine have been removed not only from your page but also from the page of Martin Schulz who as also removed my ability to post anything on his page ?

    After the extremely poor turn out at the last Euro elections & the obvious mistrust or hated felt by people all over Europe for all things connected to the European Union I would have thought that those in power would be interested to know why people don’t seem to care about your European Union.

    But given what is been discussed today regarding documentation used by the EU it may not be so surprising after all.
    Thank you in advance.

  6. Mikko Karjalainen

    @Ivan. With a profile picture (or avatar) like yours, I am sure we all get the message. Yes, you’re patriotic, angry, frustrated (even UKIP won’t take UK out) and there’s nothing europe (nowadays EU) can do for you, except dissolve. Giving a middle finger says it all. But it is OUR European Union. European Union maybe a bit tasteless and most of the time we are totally unaware of it. That’s why Euro elections are so unpopular, not because of mistrust or hatred.

  7. Debating Europe

    We’re run completely independently of the Parliament and Martin Schulz, so we can’t comment on their moderation policy. Which comments have we moderated from this page? Are you sure they didn’t include swearing (the most common reason we moderate)? In fact, we’re very happy to have critical comments and take them to politicians to get a reaction – so if you have more then please send them in.

  8. Tola アキンチペ

    “But it is OUR European Union. European Union maybe a bit tasteless and most of the time we are totally unaware of it. That’s why Euro elections are so unpopular, not because of mistrust or hatred.” < Wrong, the mistrust/hatred has definitely played a role in the poor turnouts. There are other reasons of course, but dont dismiss those ones.

  9. Jan Dik

    I am aware of this Ms. Tola,but,when a country becomes of the greatest economic powers in the world,shouldn’t its people also improve their standards of living?

  10. Edgaras

    I do not really believe that we can truly identify whether China is an ally or a threat, just yet.

  11. Florin Danila

    is not an ally and even less a threat, is China, it matters only the issues that may have connections with their economic, political problems …whatever the game rules

  12. Aleksandar Djelosevic

    We have to notice difference in Chinese and Western foreign policy styles, threat perceptions and concepts of deterrence. What seems to get lost during previous years, is real analysis of the strategic culture that will make Chinese global leadership different from that of its Western counterparts. Some of the cultural and diplomatic characteristics are uniquely Chinese.

  13. Aleksandar Djelosevic

    China history instilled the Chinese will a strong sense of pride in their culture. Chinese elites grew accustomed to the notion that China was unique, not just a ‘great civilization’ among others, but civilization itself .Ideology will ultimately determine whether China and Europe cooperate or be on confront sides. At that point relations between EU and US and US and China would be important factors in watching EU-China relations.

  14. Jaroslav Kuna

    I’d reckon both natural ally and natural threat. We have to be strong and united. And that applies towards, too.

  15. Nikolai Holmov

    China historically has been isolationistic by nature. That has changed in the past 30 years and those changes and the casual effects of those changes will take a long time to play out.

    China is not likely to want to become the world policeman, world policy setter or global rudder when it comes to direction of any sort. It will expect its voice to be heard and taken more seriously but the lessons of history are clear for all to see when it comes to being the sovereign global leader. Namely you become very indebted very quickly as the world expects you to intervene in every crisis of whatever manifestation at your own expense.

    The Chinese probably aren’t that stupid. Certainly you would be a fool to think China will ever take the military lead in far flung and expensive conflicts.

    Where China will seek to become “great” is through FDI and ownership of existing globalised companies. Hardly a day passes when China hasn’t bought company X in Germany, bank Y on Wall Street, commodity mines in nation Z.

    Having 97% of the global rare earth market, China is in a position of power anyway. You need rare earths for your mobile telephone, computer, car electronic systems etc.

    Imagine what would happen if they limited or simply stopped exporting their rare earths? R&D in Europe without rare earths? That would be interesting!

    As for the human rights lens, whilst there are numerous human rights abuses which quite rightly are highlighted, it should not be forgotten that China has also moved more people out of poverty within its own borders than any UN/NGO/Church/IMF/WB/EBRD/EIB/Charity programme has managed to do (even combined) elsewhere on the planet in the past 30 years.

    The EU can lecture China all it wants, but China has become big enough to deal with a dysfunctional and structurally flawed EU. The EU can’t even tackle Belarus, a tiny nation on its immediate borders effectively or in unison.

    Fortunately despite the framing of this question, even the most intellectually retarded politicians in the EU know very well the EU needs China in the short and medium term. Therefore Cathy Ashton’s “silver thread” of human rights running through all EU foreign policy will be more, or less, prominent depending on the pragmatic climate that policy has to work within. With China it is a given that the EU will mutter on about human rights just as equally it is a given that China will simply ignore that muttering. Then both will get down to business where they have shared positions, interests and needs.

    The EU has never stopped importing Russian gas because of human rights. It has never stopped dealing with Japan or the USA over the death penalty and human rights. It will never stop dealing with China over human rights. I know it, the EU knows it and China knows it.

    It is the basics of foreign policy. Interests verses Values. If you have no real interests you can be pious over your values with nothing to lose if you break off all relations. If your interests are great, then morality/values are not the driver. Realpolitik!

    As for the EU’s carbon policy, when the USA, China, India etc all fail to pay it and relations and business are all put on the line because of it, who is most likely to back down? A growth devoid Europe or the nation s with or returning to growth?

  16. Ognyan

    I think EU has wrong conception for youreselves role in world!
    Therefore complacency bureaucracy is logical consequence!
    Europa must thing more for economical competetive than for social and cultural equality!

  17. Hasan Ozdemir

    In my opinion, to rise of China is a serious threat for EU and the World, if China doesn’t change.China have a fascist administration like Yugoslavia or Cuba at the present.If to rise of economy of China slow down and to occur a economic crisis,it will be fight easily like Germany how in the time of Nazis.If that realise,the World will be ruin, why a nuclear power.Therefore China have to change like India as a democracy.

  18. Aleksandar Djelosevic

    We have to notice difference in Chinese and Western foreign policy styles, threat perceptions and concepts of deterrence. What seems to get lost during previous years, is real analysis of the strategic culture that will make Chinese global leadership different from that of its Western counterparts. Some of the cultural and diplomatic characteristics are uniquely Chinese.
    China history instilled the Chinese will a strong sense of pride in their culture. Chinese elites grew accustomed to the notion that China was unique, not just a ‘great civilization’ among others, but civilization itself .Ideology will ultimately determine whether China and Europe cooperate or be on confront sides. At that point relations between EU and US and US and China would be important factors in watching EU-China relations.

  19. Marco

    China and Europe cannot compete, because of one simple fact: they are playing the same game with different rules.
    The day China starts competing with the same rules, China’s growth will stop, because it will be no longer convenient to pay freight costs from Asia.
    Besides, any good labled “made in Germany”, “made in Italy”, “made in France” or so…has a 10-time higher price than a “made in China” one.

  20. Mikko Karjalainen

    @Tola: “Wrong, the mistrust/hatred has definitely played a role in the poor turnouts. There are other reasons of course, but dont dismiss those ones.”

    Yea, and that’s why euro parliament is controlled by so called pro-european parties/coalitions – and not eurosceptics? People really hate EU so much that, they won’t bother voting their own parties anymore? Are you serious?

  21. Karima Oustadi

    … I would say, few nations are “natural” allies, at least till nationalisms survive. So it’s not a matter of “natural” alliances, mainly because as economic power enter the stage, there’s no feeling that matters. China HAS to be our ally if we want to build a future better than how the present is. tnx

  22. Bastian

    If we replace “China” in the above statements with “Japan” then we are more or less back in the Seventies and Eighties of the last century. And where is Japan today? The West has obviously a continuous need to compare itself with other civilizations, particularly with respect to the level of competiveness.

    One thing is for sure, the future of Europe will not be decided in China nor elsewhere but entirely in Europe itself. And I am afriad, if our elites continue to serve more the interests of other parts of the world than our own, as it seems the case today, our future looks doomed with or without China.

    Just remember, China would not have been where it is today, neither as threat nor potential ally, if the West would not have provided it with its latest technologies and knowledge after 1990.

  23. Christos Mouzeviris

    i personally welcome China’s rise, but of course we need to stand united when dealing with them..they are after all (still) the most populous country in the world, and individual European countries of around 10 or 20 million each-never mind the smaller one, have a clear disadvantage.. with a Europe of half a billion though, things are different..I welcome the rise of the BRICS economies, to break the monopoly of the West notably America… Europe has been their lap dog since WW2, and we barely have foreign policies of our own, if uncle Sam says otherwise.. I want to create a multi-polar world and break the monopoly of the Americans and the three main European powers (Germany-France-Britain).. Then the world will be more equal and fare in my opinion..But only if Europe unites in some sort… if not, then we are going to be just a play field and chess mat for the big players of the future, like China, Russia, America… We are just going to be a market for them so they can trad and become richer, while we will have to buy their stuff and do as they say…

  24. Ozcan

    China can’t be an ally because we cannot share our wealth with them, it is not possible so we have to kill China…and everyone else with ambitions.

  25. Ivan Burrows

    It depends how much money the Chinese are prepared to give the Euro countries. All other things are negotiable (including democracy & Human rights). A quick look at the difference in the EU’s stance on China & Syria tells you all you need to know.

  26. catherine Benning

    China is only riding high because of the manufacturing base it has lifted as a result of its ability to keep workers at slave wages. Rampant capitalism in Europe is creating poverty of the kind not seen here for a long time.

    Remove the need for their products and you remove the need
    for China.

    In short, they are cheap and you always get what you pay for!

    Any ruling entity believing China can be ‘trusted’ is lacking in the necessary ability to govern.

  27. Omar Mateiro

    Should be neither. Just another economic agente thrieving for a place in the sun. If they will help or be armfull to us? Just depends on how much money or interests we have there!
    History lesson…we have stopped them for long time, their car industry, etc, before the chinese revolution and its natural that some grudges will survive for a generation or two.

  28. Vicente Silva Tavares

    China (but also India, Brazil, etc) is a case of two wheights and two measures. China charges big custom tariffs to European goods and we, only charge mostly 6%. China put all difficulties to invest in China and we have our borders to China to buy our reference companies so they can lobbying our governments to support their interests. Our open borders takes our industries and our jobs to China and other countries like it, we willl get poorer and poorer. The economic crisis in the South of Europe is a sample of this. EU destroyed with the low tariffs many industries of those countries. Most European countries have a financial debt, ones less than others, but all are in debt. Thanks to low custom tarifs.

  29. Eszter Rodé

    I think its neither – on its own. What it will be in the end, depends entirely on our responses and actions.

    • catherine benning

      @Eszter Rode:

      How do you come to that conclusion?

      China’s objective is to subjugate the West, and it doesn’t matter a jot what we do, it will continue to have that at its heart.

      What Europe should be concentrating on is how to use the vast aspirational population of that country to the advantage of ‘our’ manufacturing base. Not allowing them to send their low cost junk here and reduce our people to the lifestyle they presently have.

      Vested interest is only centred on how to raise the percentage of income for those at the top of our tree, rather than concern themselves with the living of those at the bottom.

      We should be nationalising essential infrastructure, utilities and transport, blocking foreign investment in that which is essential to our well being and function. Trusting another nation, not simply China, with the life force of Europe is absolute madness.

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