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UPDATED: January 16, 2012 NO. 3 JANUARY 19, 2012
China's Role in the Future of Europe
Sino-European relations are not only mutually beneficial, but also mutually transformational
By David Gosset

CULTURAL APPEAL: A German girl practices Chinese calligraphy in Zhuji, east China's Zhejiang Province (XINHUA)

The redistribution of global power has changed the relations between the great powers and invites them to reconsider their diplomatic priorities. In the aftermath of World War II, the future of Europe was proactively shaped by the United States, or more precisely, by a group of American "wise men." But now China is in a position to have an unprecedented impact on European integration. As Beijing fully develops its immense potential and seems poised to become the world's biggest economy in the coming decade, its capacity to influence will certainly grow.

With the euro debt crisis, Europe is arguably at its third main turning points since the end of World War II. However, as it did previously when confronting the most serious challenges, the continent will not de-Europeanize but, on the contrary, will deepen its union by transferring more sovereignty to its supranational authorities in the field of budgetary and fiscal policies. In that sense, for European federalists, the euro crisis is an opportunity and Brussels will subordinate the discussions on enlargement to the existential imperatives of a more cohesive first circle of the EU—the euro zone.

In this rapidly changing context, the leaders of the EU and China should rethink the significance of trans-Eurasian links and open a new chapter in the relations between two of the world's most ancient civilizations. The degree as well as the means of Chinese action in Europe compatible with the internal constraints of the world's largest developing country and congenial with Chinese traditional principles of foreign policy will have to be seriously discussed by Beijing's policymakers. In parallel, the realization and evaluation of China's new ability to influence will occupy more and more space in the European public debates and stand as an issue of political campaigns.

Mutual reassurance

With mutual trade in goods and services reaching 432 billion euros ($552.7 billion) in 2010, the EU and China form the second largest economic cooperation in the world. This level of economic interdependence has been achieved in a very short period of time despite a Great Wall of mistrust separating two societies that have been evolving largely independently for millennia. And, as the speed of quantitative change exceeds the pace of qualitative transformation, time will certainly be needed to reduce the gap between trade and trust. Obviously, it is the Chinese people's belief in the Chinese renaissance that conditions its success, and, similarly, the Europeans' faith in the renewal of Europe will determine its outcome. But while self-confidence remains the most powerful internal force, mutual reassurance has the advantage to strengthen it, and it is in that perspective that both sides should not overlook what mutual trust can bring to the relationship. The Chinese renaissance should be seen by Europe as a source of synergies. At the operational level, it is time for European policymakers to build mechanisms to facilitate Chinese investment within the EU—China will invest abroad more than $1 trillion by 2020. The EU should also grant China market economy status, which will be, in any case, accorded to Beijing under World Trade Organization rules from December 11, 2016, and lift an inopportune and counterproductive arms embargo. In foreign affairs, Europe should systematically consult China on security issues such as the Middle East and nuclear proliferation, and implement ambitious Sino-European cooperation in third countries from Africa to Central Asia.

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