By Liu Xige
The long-term cooperation between China and the EU in the fields of trade and economics and the constantly developing bilateral relations between Beijing and individual EU nations have combined to help lay solid foundations for overall cooperation.
It is possible a new type of strategic partnership could be forged if the two parties maneuver to accommodate and suit each other. This relationship is long term, stable and mutually beneficial by nature, and has a great impact on international politics.
China and the EU are very much aware that their own future strategic positions are largely determined by their relationships with the outside world. China's drive for modernization through peaceful development and the EU's push for integration are both rational options based on strategic judgments and are in their fundamental interests.
A strategic partnership does not necessarily require that both sides should have totally identical values, but demands that the two parties should arrive at a basically correct assessment of each other. Mutual acceptance and largely identical interests combine to form the shared strategic judgment of China and the EU.
China's positive attitude towards European integration and the EU's obliging attitude towards China's peaceful development constitute the basis of mutual recognition.
At the core of the "European concept," which helps promote European integration, are multilateralism and approaching international security matters in a comprehensive way.
EU multilateralism refers to its emphasis on the UN's paramount authority with regard to handling important world affairs, its attaching importance to the role played by international organizations and multilateral mechanisms, upholding of international law and multilateral accords, pushing for international and regional cooperation and its maintenance of resolving international disputes and conflicts through negotiations.
The comprehensive approaches mean the EU applies a package of policies and measures involving politics, diplomacy, trade, foreign aid, culture, democracy, the rule of law and human rights in the prevention and handling of international crises in an effort to make up for its insufficient military strength.
These two factors constitute the EU's "soft strength," helping it play an important role in world affairs.
The wisdom of the "European concept" and the success of the EU model in dealing with world affairs and crises tally, to a certain extent, with China's strategic ideas and its peaceful development.
But it should be noted that there are some political blind spots and insufficiency of trust on the part of the EU in terms of its relationship with China, in spite of China gaining increasingly important status. If one side regards the other as an entity to be led and reformed politically, the relations between the two parties naturally deteriorate.
Although the ideological colors in the relationship between the EU and China have faded significantly, the EU still harbors political prejudice against China on some matters. This only serves to affect mutual political trust, making some problems thornier and unnecessarily complex.
Historical experience shows that the exterior forces' influence on China's policies are very much limited. China's fusing into the rest of the world is a process being carried out of its own choice and the orientation of its development is not to be dictated by outside factors.
At the same time, China's opening up and reform is also a process of learning from the rest of the world, absorbing the experience of humanity's progress and upgrading itself; improving its relations with the outside world, which automatically helps improve the country's image worldwide.
Independence and embracing the world constitute two integral parts of China's diplomatic principle. This also applies in its developing strategic partnership with the EU.
Important changes have taken place both in China and the EU since the end of the Cold War, both sides' comprehensive strength, their influence in world affairs and their attraction to each other all increasing. Both have become increasingly important and active players in the world arena. The strategic partnership between China and the EU is by no means a self-contained relationship. It is bound to interact with the existing international set-up and with other countries and alliances.
But all in all, the strategic partnership between the two sides should never be manipulated and coerced by exterior forces at the expense of one's own or one's strategic partner's interests.
Flexibility is called for in developing China-EU relations while basic principles should be stuck to. Bilateral relations can progress in an effective, steady and sustainable way on condition that the balance in general international relationships is maintained. The direction in which China-EU relations will proceed will be determined by the two parties' basic interests and strategic options.
This means refraining from elaborating on the EU lifting its arms sales ban against China.
At present, both China and the EU agree the ultimate outcome of this matter should not be allowed to go against the development of the China-EU strategic partnership.
China is a developing country with a huge population but relatively insufficient resources. The country's development, comprehensive national strength and its international influence are still disproportionate to the contribution to the world community that should have been made, taking into account the country's size and population. China's modernization drive still has a long way to go.
The EU has its own problems, too eastward expansion playing out, inner-alliance disputes, setbacks suffered in introducing a unified constitution, sluggish economies and the lack of a unified diplomatic and security policy.
It is expected that both China and the EU will overcome difficulties and barriers, clear away inharmonious and uncertain factors that are affecting bilateral relations, go beyond the disputes in ideas and values, promote mutual strategic trust, find more strategic common ground and brush aside exterior interference. This will guarantee the forging of the strategic partnership in the real sense of the phrase.
The author is a senior researcher with the Foundation of International Strategic Studies.
(China Daily January 27, 2006)