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New EU chief good for ties with China
By Wu Jiao, Li Xiaokun and Cheng Guangjin (China Daily)
Updated: 2009-11-21 09:06

New EU chief good for ties with China

The appointment of Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy as European Union (EU) president will help its member nations agree on a unified China policy and reduce the risk of estrangement in relations, diplomats and experts said on Friday.

EU leaders handed the block's new top job to Van Rompuy on Thursday (Friday, Beijing time). They also appointed trade commissioner Catherine Ashton, of Britain, as the EU's new foreign policy chief.

The two top jobs were created on the basis of EU reform document, the Lisbon Treaty, that takes effect from Dec 1.

Francois Godement, director and professor of Asia Center, affiliated to Paris-based Sciences Po, said a stable EU presidency would help Europe stabilize its ever-fluctuating relations with China.

Ties between China and some European countries were estranged last year after some leaders' supported separatist elements in the Tibet autonomous region and called for boycotting the Beijing Olympic Games. Some EU leaders also met the Dalai Lama.

"Speaking of EU-China relations, what matters most is the top-down political attention to the problem," Godement said on the sidelines of a forum on China-EU relations that concluded in Beijing on Friday.

The implementation of the Lisbon Treaty will make coordination between China and the EU more direct and effective, especially at times when the two sides face problems in their relations, said Yang Jiemian, president of Shanghai Institute for International Studies.

A more coordinated EU policy on China will certainly reduce the risk of a deteriorating relationship, caused by certain countries' unfriendly moves, he said.

Financial Times editor James Kynge agreed. "I think one big frustration in China's relationship with Europe has been that it's never clear in Europe who is the boss," he said at the forum.

"Now that the EU has a president, maybe it will be easier for China to engage ... At least we have one person who is supposed to speak for the whole of the EU."

Counselor of the Belgian embassy in Beijing Bart Pennewaert, however, said it was hard to guess whether a China policy was the most pressing task for Van Rompuy. The economy seems to be most important for him.

But based on Van Rompuy's meeting with Vice-President Xi Jinping, who visited Belgium last month, the 62-year-old EU president is clearly supportive of the one-China policy and does not back any separatist activities against China, experts said.

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Van Rompuy's appointment came on the heels of US President Barack Obama's China visit. The importance Obama attaches to China - and vice-versa - has made some Europeans wonder whether the EU's role in global affairs would be curtailed.

But Jean-Pierre Raffarin, former French prime minister, said in Beijing: "The China-EU relationship is no less important than China-US ties ... The EU-China Summit will prove the importance of the China-EU relations."

The 12th China-EU Summit will be held in Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu province, on Nov 30. Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt will lead the EU delegation and meet with Premier Wen Jiabao.

"The EU and China have reached a consensus on building a multi-polar, rather than a uni-polar, world," Raffarin said. "We both agree that there is no G1, G2 or G3 in the world, but it's a multi-polar world."

Gustaaf Geeraerts, director of the Brussels Institute of Contemporary China Studies, told the forum that the growing momentum of Beijing's synergy with Washington had given rise to speculation over a new trans-Pacific axis.

The Sino-EU partnership may not be strategic, but it has great potential, he said, and to strengthen ties, China and the EU have to agree on the areas they want to build their partnership on.

Eberhard Sandschineider, director of the Research Institute of German Council on Foreign Relations, said: "The strategic significance of EU-China relations continues to be in need of constant endeavors of re-balancing."