In 2003 China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs summarized the nature of its relations with the European Union (EU) by stating: "There is no fundamental conflict of interest between China and the EU and neither poses a threat to the other."1 In essence, common ground outweighed any perceived disagreements, and the bilateral relationship was cordial.
The idea that China would become an important foreign policy partner emerged only relatively recently in Europe. Prior to 1989 China was perceived as a second tier regional actor; only since the late 1990s has Europe's interest in closer political cooperation with China grown to blossom into what it has today become. 2 This interest stems from a variety of factors:
• China's growth as an economic power;
• China rise as a major importer of raw materials made it a competitor of the EU;
• The EU's interest in participating in multilateral trade arrangements in an increasingly "global risk world" 3;
• Europe's concern about potential protectionism in China (and the impact this could have on bilateral trade);
• The notion that China's size gives its domestic policies global significance;
• A concern that Deng's "24-character policy of non-interference" might signify a tendency not to adhere to the concept of shared global responsibility;
• A recognition that compliance with universally accepted environmental standards can only be addressed through constructive engagement; and
• The desire to promote the protection of labor and property rights on behalf of Chinese citizens.
Thus the EU acknowledged China's increasingly important role on the global stage and recognized China's inherent value in being both a significant producing and consuming nation. Despite some disagreement over China's embrace of repressive regimes (such as Sudan and Zimbabwe), there is no overt conflict of interest between China and the EU; neither is a seen as a threat to the other. The EU tends not to beat the human rights drum, nor lecture China, with the veracity of the United States.