The downside of the relationship has included trade protectionism, the EU’s failure to recognise China’s market economy status and its willingness to allow visits by the separatist Dalai Lama. Another point of contention is the EU’s continued imposition of controls on exports of dual-use goods.
Brussels followed Washington in 1989 by introducing economic sanctions against China, and it still refuses to lift its arms embargo despite the normalisation of diplomatic relations in 1992. To make matters worse, some European countries have ignored Beijing’s objections and exported arms to Taiwan.
When China’s top leaders meet their European counterparts, they have repeatedly asked them to relax controls on high-tech exports, an area where Beijing’s voice is even stronger than in its requests for the arms embargo to be lifted.
From journalistic point of view, I have a number of observations on the European Commission’s approach to dual-use export controls. First, the Commission has closely linked such controls with its leverage capacity in international politics and efforts to manage the bilateral relationship. The EU also seeks to use political and diplomatic means as a component of its power on the global stage – for example by allowing arms sales to Taiwan. Such a move can only damage the global reputation of an organisation claiming its driving force is to safeguard world peace.
Reflecting the strategic partnership
Treating China in such a way simply does not reflect the strategic partnership that Brussels and Beijing have built up over the years. Brussels needs to bring its controls on dual-use exports in line with bilateral agreements and international regulations.
China’s shifting of part of its military production capacities into civil use offers an example for Brussels on restructuring dual-use manufacturing industries. Since normalising relations with Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Beijing has greatly reduced its military capacities and transferred military factories to the civil sector under modern corporate governance – some of them are listed on the stock market.
As Beijing and Brussels are both major forces for global peace, the two sides should share their experiences in this field and let production capacities improve living standards for people both in Europe and China.
This article is part of Friends of Europe’s upcoming discussion paper on the future of dual-use technologies in Europe.
The full discussion paper will be available in early September. Read the other articles here.