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June 21, 1996

96-566 F 
June 21, 1996 

CRS Report for Congress 

Received through the CRS Web 

Europe and China — An Emerging Relationship 

Robert G. Sutter 
Senior Specialist in International Security Policy 
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division 

Congressional Research Service
The Library of Congress 


Reflecting in large part European concern to become more closely linked with 
China's rising market, the 16-member European Union (EU) has been unusually active in 
the past few years in building ties with Beijing. This report briefly reviews major policy 
pronouncements, high-level exchanges and limited assistance programs, backed by EU-
China trade flows that have more than tripled over the past decade. Prospects for increased 
trade and economic interchange appear good, but broader political and security interaction 
remains constrained by the relatively low priority Beijing assigns to relations with Europe, 
organizational and institutional limitations in the EU and among its members, and 
divergence in EU-Chinese views on the importance of conformity to internationally 
accepted norms regrading trade practices, human rights, proliferation, the use of military 
force and other matters. 

The report notes that U.S. policy concerns about the emerging European-Chinese 
relationship are mixed. U.S. policy makers sometimes complain that the combination of 
EU eagerness to trade with China and its relatively low-keyed posture on human rights, 
use of force, trade practices and other disputes with China complicates more forthright 

U.S. efforts to press China to conform better to these internationally accepted norms. 
Including information up to mid-1996, this report will not be updated. 


Representing 15 nations, including the bulk of the countries of West Europe, the 
European Union (EU) has been unusually active in the past few years in building ties with 
East Asia, and particularly China. The efforts have seen several exchanges of high-level 
visits, cultural exchanges, and use of development assistance and training aid. Highlights 
have included the European Union's 1994 statement on "A New Strategy Toward Asia;" 
the summit meeting between European Union leaders and those of East Asian countries 
at the so-called Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), which took place in Bangkok on March 


1-2, 1996; and the European Union's July 1995 statement on a "Long Term Policy on 
Europe-China Relations."1 

1 For background, see Commission of the European Communities, "Towards a New Asia 
Strategy," July 13, 1994; Commission of the European Communities, "A Long Term Policy for 
China-Europe Relations," July 5, 1995; Commission of the European Communities, 
Communication of the Commission to the Council and Parliament, " Regarding the Asia-Europe 
Meeting (ASEM) to be held in Bangkok on 1-2 March 1996." This report also benefitted from 
conference papers, especially those submitted by Roberto Menotti and Michael Yahuda, and the 
in-depth discussion at the Castelgandolfo Colloquium on Atlantic Affairs, Rome, Italy, June 7-8, 
1996; and the International Workshop on Europe and China, Rome, Italy, June 9, 1996. 

Chinese leaders have appeared anxious to reciprocate the heightened European 
interest, with senior leaders including President Jiang Zemin and Premier Li Peng making 
highly publicized visits to major European Union countries over the last two years. Those 
visits have been accompanied by reports of major sales by EU countries of sophisticated 
transportation and other equipment to China.2 

2 See notably the section on Europe in the chronology of Chinese events published regularly in 
the China Quarterly. 

Impressive statistics, especially in the area of trade, lie behind the European Union's 
first formal declaration of policy toward and growing interaction with China. Members 
of the Union have seen their trade with China triple in ten years, from $14.3 billion in 
1985 to $45.6 billion in 1994. The pace of growth has been accelerating, with trade levels 
in 1993 seeing a 65% increase over the previous year. China is now the fourth largest 
supplier and the fourth largest market for European Union members. This trend comes 
amid a broader wave of European-East Asian trade, which has seen the two sides trade 
with each other roughly equal to their trade with United States.3 

3 Conference paper by Michael Yahuda, June 1996, op.cit. 

U.S. policy reactions to emerging European-Chinese relations have been mixed. On 
the one hand, improved relations provide a number of benefits, including exposing China 
more to western ideas and institutions that over time might encourage change in China 
favored by the United States; and providing greater European experience in dealing with 
China which allows for improved U.S.-EU communication on China related questions. 
On the other hand, U.S. officials and other observers sometimes complain that greater 
European involvement with China complicates U.S. efforts to prompt the Chinese 
government to conform better to internationally accepted norms. Thus, EU 
representatives are seen to be less stringent in dealing with China on sensitive issues like 
human rights, market access, intellectual property rights and other questions. Assistant 
Secretary of State Winston Lord told the House Ways and Means Committee hearing on 
the issue of U.S. Most Favored Nation (MFN) tariff treatment for China on June 11, 1996 
that European traders, among others, were poised to take commercial advantage of U.S. 
efforts to impose sanctions on China over human rights or other questions.4 

4 New York Times, June 12, 1996. Lord's remarks came the day after China's premier told the 
Financial Times that "If the Europeans adopt more cooperation with China in all areas, not just 
in economic areas but also in political and other areas...I believe the Europeans can get more 
orders from China." Financial Times, June 11, 1996. 


Consultations with two dozen Asian affairs specialists from European Union 
countries and Chinese specialists on Europe during international meetings in Europe in 
June 1996 5 combined with a review of available literature on the European Union-Chinese 
relationship have helped to clarify some of the motives, limitations, and future issues 
regarding Europe's recently high-profile effort to build relations China. What follows is 
a brief summary of the findings of the consultations and review. 

5 See meetings cited in footnote 1. 


The recent moves by the European Union toward China come amid a broadly felt 
sense among European leaders that the Union and its members have needed to take more 
decisive action in order to continue to be seen as an important actor in East Asian affairs. 
This was deemed particularly important as it became evident in Europe that East Asia's 
economic growth would surpass that of other major markets, and that Europe's future 
economic health would be determined on how well EU members adjusted to and profited 
from the opportunities in the region. The Europeans were said to be concerned that they 
had missed an opportunity to be included in the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation 
(APEC) forum uniting the economic powers of the Pacific Rim.6 The Europeans also 
judged that China's rising power and influence have been central in determining East 
Asia's prosperity and that the EU needed to focus special efforts on building a closer 
relationship with China. 

6 For background on APEC see CRS Report 96-1 E. 

The European statements on China also have made clear that Union members are 
placing emphasis on China's importance to broader European interests regarding such 
issues as the world trading system, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction or related 
technology, environmental concerns, and others. China has been seen as particularly 
important in determining the future importance of the World Trade Organization (WTO), 
which is a top priority to the Europeans; and in influencing the future stability on the 
Korean peninsula (European Union members are concerned about nuclear proliferation 
and stability there).7 European Union members Britain and Portugal have special 
concerns with China because of the planned reversion of their respective colonial 
possessions, Hong Kong and Macau, to Chinese control in 1997 and 1999, respectively. 

7 The size and growth of China's economy, especially in the area of trade and outside investment, 
is seen as particularly important in influencing the future of the WTO. Regarding security in 
Korea, some EU members have contributed to the Korean Economic Development Organization 
(KEDO), which was founded as part of the U.S.-North Korean compromise on nuclear issues 
reached in 1994. For background see CRS Issue Brief 91141. 


Amid the rhetoric of European determination to build closer ties with China lie 
several realities limiting European-Chinese relations, according to European and Chinese 


* China's view of Europe. Beijing is anxious to gain economically from improved 
relations with Europe. Over time, Beijing is also anxious to foster greater 
European political and strategic independence from the United States as part of 
broader PRC efforts to foster a multipolar world more advantageous to China than 
the current international system. At present Beijing is seen to chafe under an 
international order that sees the United States as the dominant power, often 
pressing the PRC hard on a variety of international and domestic questions. Thus, 
for China, Europe is said to represent a kind of "card" that can be played in the 
more important game of U.S.-Chinese relations.8 

8 For background on Chinese policy toward Europe, see among others Michael Yahuda, "China 
and Europe: The Significance of a Secondary Relationship," in Thomas Robinson and David 
Shambaugh (eds.) Chinese Foreign Policy: Theory and Practice, Oxford U. Press, 1994. 

This kind of thinking underlines some of the limits of Chinese interests in 
and attention to Europe. It reflects the fact that in the order of PRC foreign 
policy, first priority is given to the United States; next comes Japan and the 
important countries in the East Asian area; coming up a distant third are Europe 
and others. 

Meanwhile, Chinese understanding of the European Union is said to be 
weak and confused, with many Chinese officials thinking of the Union as, at 
bottom, a protectionist trading bloc designed to keep PRC products out of 

* European limitations. These focus heavily on organizational and institutional 
weaknesses, according to European and Chinese experts. Thus, several experts 
mentioned that Europe's interest in China is mainly economic and that the 
European Union is most effective when dealing with a country like China on the 
basis of economic issues. 

As a diplomatic actor or as a force on security issues, the Union is said to 
be less well suited to take actions vis-a-vis China, especially as European 
Union members are reluctant to allow the Union very much leeway to deal with 
important defense or security issues. As an example, the Union was very slow 
in coming out in support of the American show of force off the Taiwan Strait 
in the face of provocative PRC military exercises in early 1996, while some 
member governments were prompt in supporting the move. 

Some European specialists also suggest that the European Union's recent 
emphasis on China is being done in part to compensate for the Union's alleged 
inability to come to effective and decisive policies on more critical issues 
requiring European cooperation, such as Atlantic relations, European security 
and the Middle East. The EU has thus far been unsuccessful in meeting the 
1993 Maastricht Treaty's call for a common foreign and defense policy. 


Future Issues 

As Europeans increase interaction with China, experts judge that several other areas 
bear watching in addition to the burgeoning bilateral trade relationship. 

* Europe's weak profile in China. Will the European Union or its members increase 
educational and other exchanges in order to improve Europe's image in China and 
improve Chinese understanding of the Union and its members? At present, for 
example, the number of EU students studying in China and Chinese students 
studying in EU countries is only a small fraction of the U.S. students in China and 
Chinese students in the United States. 

* How will the European Union handle the intense competition among member 
states that sees them foster trade benefits and other forms of subsidized economic 
competition in order to land trade deals for companies in their country? The 
competition for sales in China not only complicates EU-U.S. relations there but 
also works against unity among the EU members. 

* How active are the Union and its members prepared to be on issues like security 
questions, human rights, Hong Kong reversion, Taiwan, and others that are 
important to segments of European opinion but thus far have been dealt with 
discreetly or not at all by the European Union in its new, mainly economically 
focused initiatives toward China? 

* Will the European Union allow itself to be played as a "card" in China's dealings 
with the United States, in effect complicating or undermining U.S. efforts to press 
the Chinese government to conform to internationally accepted norms? (Chinese 
leaders have a long history of playing off one outside power against another and 
have been anxious to exploit perceived splits among the "Western" countries over 
human rights, WTO entry and other issues.) If so, what would or should be the 
U.S. reactions to such European accommodation of China?