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back to index backASIAtalk August,  2005

Europe's China agenda - the WTO-column

When you compare the way the US and Europe are dealing with the upcoming economic force called China, then it is hard not to note some very remarkable differences. The relations between the US and China are almost daily subject of scrutiny by the US Congress and media. Can CNOOC buy a US oil company? Should China revalue its currency more? Is doing China enough to protect intellectual property rights? Is China taking our jobs away?

While I often disagree with the conclusions of both the US Congress and media, what I appreciate is that there is a public debate going on. Hey, we journalists also need to make a living, one way or the other.

How different is the way Europe and its member states are dealing with China. There is no lack of European visitors to Beijing and visa versa. Just like representatives of the US administration China adds substantially to the frequent flier miles of visitors from Brussels, who also come in droves as often the rotating country-in-charge sends its representatives along to keep an eye on the EU Commission.

But hanging around in Brussels I get confronted with an eerie silence when I ask spokespeople what kind of China issues are on their media agenda. "We have of course the issue of the weapons embargo," says one of them. And after some time: "And there are some trade issues, but they are often too technical."

His observation and that of many of his colleagues is correct: in Europe China is not on the political agenda. That says perhaps more about Europe than about China. While the importance of Europe has been increasing dramatically over the past decade, while also the number of journalists covering the European capital has gone up, that have not translated into real political debates that focuses too often on internal politics in the member states. That is of course the real European disease: international issues all seem so uninteresting until it is too late. Europe is still ruled by civil servants more than politicians.

What China issues should be on the agenda? What should concern both politicians and their citizens? There are some very urgent issues:

- Criminal organizations from China are becoming more and more important in Europe; the cooperation between European and Chinese law enforcement agencies does not seem to keep pace with that development.

- China's larger companies might not be very successful in getting access to global business, in Europe they get more rooted into the low-end, often semi-illegal industries and sweatshop that employ illegal immigrant and often ignore labor laws, tax law and other regulations.

- Stringent European immigration laws (unlike those in the US) do not only keep economic migrants out, they also stop a growing number of talented Chinese that could support the European economy.

- Tourism from China is still very much hampered by fear and unnecessary and inefficient regulations.

Of course, there are the trade issues that for sure are not really a technical issue, as European civil servants say. They have profound influence on the European economy and should be treated like that.

Europe does need a China-agenda.

Source: - GAI

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