In My Day: EU-China relations

Written by Glyn Ford on 5 November 2015 in Feature

The EU is no longer a global player when it comes to dealing with the 'Red Dragon of the East', argues Glyn Ford.

When Zhou Enlai was questioned by Nixon in 1972 on the impact of the 'French Revolution' his response was 'too early to say'. It is still unclear whether either or both were talking about 1789 or 1968. 

Nevertheless, the reply may well serve to describe the current transformation of the EU - China relationship. Since the two established diplomatic relations forty years ago, there has been a metamorphosis in our economic relationship, yet one not matched in the political sphere. 

EU - China trade grew faster than the Chinese economy, while Beijing has gone from passive recipient of investment to major investor - as exampled by the string of deals signed during President Xi's visit to the UK. 


Yet, if economic relations reflect the realities of globalisation, political cooperation is stuck in the Cold War era. 

Here instead of leading, we meekly follow. On next year's granting of market economy status, transatlantic preferences trump the interests of the Union.

This wasn't always the case in the past, when Europe was a leader. In 1972 a European Prime Minister, Dom Mintoff, led a delegation to Beijing that helped pave the way to mutual recognition.

Subsequently China's perception saw an EU too weak and divided to be a global player. One member of that 1972 delegation was Commissioner Karmenu Vella. 

Let's just hope that before his term ends in 2019 the EU starts acting less as a surrogate and more as a guardian of its own interests, allowing political relations to catch up with economic.


About the author

Former MEP and leader of the UK Socialist group Glyn Ford is an expert on EU-East Asia relations

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