Rivals or partners, confrontation or collaboration, Europe’s complicated relationship with China is under the spotlight as never before this week, with EU Council President Herman van Rompuy’s visit. euronews spoke to Robert Lawrence Kuhn, author of How China’s Leaders Think.
Nial O’Reilly, euronews: Dr Kuhn, Europe is running a huge trade deficit with China. Does Beijing have the upper hand? Is it seeking to dictate terms? Who needs who the most?
Robert Lawrence Kuhn: Actually, both are held hostage to the other. China needs Europe because Europe is a tremendous market for China, and also, importantly, it counter-balances China’s relations with the United States. In China this week, with the strategic and economic dialogue being held between the US and China in Washington, the Chinese media were playing up the relationship with the EU, as if to say “we can balance one with the other”.
euronews: Beijing’s been a big supporter of the euro during the current crisis, buying up weaker government bonds. But how long will this support last? Are the Chinese getting fed up with Europe’s failure to get to grips with its currency problems?
Kuhn: China needs Europe just as much as Europe needs China, and China wants to diversify its financial holdings now greater than three trillion dollars. So it’s essential that China support Europe. They will do everything possible to maintain Europe as a strong entity in the world and we’re dealing with a huge continent (Asia). We’re dealing with the future, and China wants Europe to be very successful to keep China’s economy going strongly, as well as to have political balance.
euronews: Herman van Rompuy has been under pressure from national EU governments to raise the human rights issue, particularly the case of imprisoned artist and activist Ai Weiwei. It’s a very delicate issue for both sides. How has Beijing handled it?
Kuhn: The human rights issue, from the West’s point of view, can be very deplorable. But from here in China, not too many people talk about it. A number of people have been put under house arrest. The general Chinese people don’t really think of it that much. If we look at the big overview, when the United States and Europe complains strongly about human rights, from the Chinese point of view, you know it may be better for China to complain about human rights (that the US and Europe complain about human rights) about a few individuals, than to focus heavily on the currency, because the currency really hits China in a sensitive area. The focus on human rights from the West sounds good, but for the Chinese leadership it doesn’t matter all that much.