Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 07/2008

Contemporary Chinese Views of Europe

Karine Lisbonne-de Vergeron

November 2007

Chatham House


This study aims to highlight, in particular, that:

The Chinese feel Europe lacks a strategic vision and suffers from internal discord, which impedes its credibility in world affairs. Europe simply does not exist as a political centre of power, especially compared with the United States.

China desires a more united European voice, as part of its conception of a multipolar future world order.

China has a sophisticated approach to Europe. This includes a clear understanding of the European Union, in institutional terms and of its major member states, as well as what China perceives as European civilization in general.

The economic and political relationships between Europe and China are currently best defined in a bilateral framework with individual member states. Nevertheless, the EU as a whole matters increasingly for China in trade and other economic issues. In the next twenty years or so, ultimately only the EU as an entity will be able to maintain a strong negotiating position with China on these matters and more generally.

The Chinese consider the euro a 'most impressive achievement'. They believe that Europe's position in the future will depend, above all, on its ability to build a greater common defence and security identity and to strengthen the Eurozone - especially by including the United Kingdom.

China perceives the European example as a source of inspiration for enhanced regional economic co-operation in Asia, particularly in its dealings with Japan.

Europe remains culturally attractive, and is not fundamentally in decline (despite what some Indians and Americans, for example, believe). Although the Chinese feel that Europe and the United States are ultimately 'tied together', they nevertheless regard Europe and China as the two 'core civilizations' of the world, and therefore from this perspective see America as 'marginal'. This, they consider, would offer a unique common ground for understanding between themselves and Europeans. The EU is the primary collective sense in which the Chinese view Europe and they expect it to enlarge further. There are, however, diverging opinions on whether Russia is fundamentally a European power.