April 17, 2009 / 7:16 AM / 10 years ago

EU's China policy has failed, says think-tank

BEIJING, April 17 (Reuters) - The European Union’s policy towards China on everything from trade to human rights has failed to achieve any progress and the bloc must be tougher with Beijing but also offer strong inducements, an EU think-tank said. The European Council on Foreign Relations said that Beijing actively exploited divisions within the European Union, which was happy to deal with China as though it were a developing nation rather than the economic and diplomatic powerhouse it has become.

“The strategy of unconditional engagement is no longer working. The old approach has been rendered obsolete by China’s power, its skilful exploitation of European weaknesses and its refusal to become a democracy,” the council wrote in a report.

The European Union is China’s biggest export market, but it also has a large and growing trade deficit with China. That has caused further friction on top of spats over Tibet, Taiwan and China’s ties with countries like Sudan and Myanmar.

Last year, China pulled out of a summit with EU leaders that France was to host after French President Nicolas Sarkozy met exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, whom China labels a dangerous separatist, a charge he denies.

“The EU’s China strategy is based on an anachronistic belief that China, under the influence of European engagement, will liberalise its economy, improve the rule of law and democratise its politics,” the report said.

“Yet ... China’s foreign and domestic policy has evolved in a way that has paid little heed to European values, and today Beijing regularly contravenes or even undermines them.”

And Beijing has become expert at using splits within the European Union, for example over Tibet, where member states have at times refused to back each other’s policies on the remote region, run by China since its troops marched in in 1950.

“It treats its relationship with the EU as a game of chess, with 27 opponents crowding the other side of the board and squabbling about which piece to move,” the report said. “As irritating as Beijing finds this at times, there is no question about who is in a position to play the better game.”

Yet the European Union did have trump cards it could play to get Beijing to be a more active global partner on issues including Iran’s nuclear programme and climate change.

The European Union’s long-standing arms embargo, put in place after China’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in 1989, could be lifted in exchange for stronger sanctions on Iran, the report recommended.

China could also be offered key energy-efficient and renewable technologies in return for specific targets on emissions, it added.

“Europe needs China to become a better partner and a better global citizen,” it said. “Reciprocal engagement can go a long way towards making that happen.” (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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