European Perspectives on Hong Kong and China
Dr Heinrich Wilhelm Beuth, Consul-General of the Federal Republic of Germany in Hong Kong, was the Foundation’s guest speaker on 11 November 2003. Below is the text of his speech.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am grateful to the Hong Kong Democratic Foundation for offering me the opportunity to share with you my thoughts on "European Perspectives on Hong Kong and China".
The privilege of addressing this audience is even greater as I have no particular mandate, nor a particular justification other than your assumed interest. I make this specific caveat to my colleagues from the Consular Corps: they perfectly know that within the European Union it is common practice that only the Presidency, once it has a mandate to do so, can speak on behalf of all EU members, or it is the European Commission to speak on behalf of the Union when it comes to trade matters.
So, please consider my remarks as the views of a "european" scholar of political science, where the "european" is written with a small "e" , not with a capital "E".
With your permission and in order to make my argument clearer I would like to reverse the order of the topic and first speak about "European Perspectives on China" and then about the "Perspectives on Hong Kong".
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Although, back in the 1920's , the German journalist and critic Kurt Tucholsky gave the advice "The orator be not a dictionary, that is what people have at home" I would like to start with very few figures on the European Union and China:
In 2002, China was the sixth biggest economy of the world behind the United States, Japan, Germany, Great Britain and France and had the second largest foreign exchange reserves. China ranked on sixth place as to its trade volume and still this year may advance to fifths or even fourth position considering that its exports grew by 36 percent in the first half of 2003.
The European Union is the most integrated community of countries in the world, taking up 25 per cent of the world’s economy and 35 per cent of world trade. After the enlargement to a membership of 25 states the European Union would count a population of 450 million people and a GDP of 10 trillion US dollars.
These two major global economic players most recently, coincidentally within the time span of only a couple of hours, published two policy papers on their respective relations to each other:
On September 10th, 2003, the European Commission proposed a document called
"Commissions Policy paper on China: A maturing partnership - shared interest and challenges in EU-China relations" which the Foreign Ministers of the European Union adopted on October 13th, 2003. Just a few hours earlier and two weeks ahead of the EU-China Summit scheduled to take place in Beijing on October 30th, 2003, the Peoples Republic of China had issued its first ever conceptual document on the European Union under the simple title: China’s EU policy paper.
So, what is the thrust of these two documents?
The EU position paper is the latest in a series of five which have been published over the last eight years starting in 1995 with an initial paper which was followed, in 1998, by a strategic conceptual approach on:
"Building a Comprehensive Partnership with China" which for the first time stressed the Union's fundamental interest in strengthening relations with China.
In June 2001, the Commission updated this policy paper and charted a course of short and medium term action points aimed to make progress towards the long term aims defined in 1998.
The present 2003 policy paper now intends to provide further impetus for the EU’s relationship with China and help guide EU policy and action over the next two or three years, but also to promote the ongoing reflection in China itself about her future policy towards the European Union.
Since 2001, both the European Union and China are engaged in a process of adapting to a new global environment:
Global challenges such as climate change, and environmental degradation, illegal immigration, international crime, global health hazards such as HIV/AIDS or SARS are of concern to the EU, but these challenges also pose serious threats to China’s long –term development.
International Terrorism and growing concerns over the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction have brought new types of international security concerns;
But apart from the growing awareness for international challenges there is also the clear insight that the stability and development of China itself are key concerns of the EU. The statistics which I gave at the beginning sufficiently explain the reasons for my argument.
The successful transition of the most populous country of the world to a stable, prosperous and open society that fully embraces democracy, free market principles and the rule of law are in the fundamental interest of the EU. Supporting China’s transition and reform processes by reinforcing cooperation and dialogue across the board are major policy goals of the Union.
As far as the international scene is concerned it is in the clear interest of the European Union and China to work together as strategic partners. EU and Chinese interests converge on many issues of global governance, in particular as to the key role that multilateral organisations and systems should play. Through a further reinforcement of their co-operation, the EU and China will better be able to promote these shared visions and interests and thus to shore up their joint security and other interests in Asia and elsewhere.
China actually has increasingly shown that it is prepared to take over more and more responsibilities: its contributions to resolving the issues surrounding the North Korean nuclear programme, the discussions relating to the pacification and reconstruction of Iraq, and an intensified cooperation with ASEM and ASEAN states.
It must be noted, however, that the European and the Chinese vision of a multilateral world order are not identical. There is a difference in the European concept of "multilateralism" and the Chinese concept of "multipolarity". "Multipolarity" implies that Europe is looked at as an opposite pole to the United States. But Europe has neither the means nor the intention to become such an independent player, and even the recent divergencies over the war in Iraq don’t support this assumption.
As far as China's internal transformation process is concerned I mentioned already that this development is in the clear interest of the European Union. The European Union supports this process not only verbally, but also materially.
Take as an example the cooperation framework as set out in the China Country Strategy for the period 2002 - 2006 which the European Commission released on March 1, 2002. Funds at the amount of 250 million Euro are designed to assist China in its transformation process in the field of social and economic reforms, environmental protection and sustainable development, good governance and the rule of law.
Speaking out on human rights concerns and encouraging the rule of law and political reforms in China are understandably sensitive subjects for China, however, they are crucial to safeguard social stability in China and the sustainability of the reform process.
The 2003 EU policy paper quintessentially concludes that "developing a robust, enduring and mutually beneficial relationship of equals which covers all of the areas should be a major aim for both the EU and China in the coming years."
Now what in turn is the Chinese vision on its relations to the European Union?
On October 13th, 2003 China published a comprehensive Policy paper on its relations to the EU, the first of its kind to be drawn up by the Chinese Government. As to the “choice of partner” the document refers in its introduction to the increasingly important role of the European Union in regional and international politics which is based not only upon its role as a Single Market and Economic and Monetary Union but also the harmonization of foreign and security policy.
In order to describe the basic orientation of EU-China relations the paper refers to the annual cooperation and consultation mechanism initiated during the first EU-China summit in 1998. Since then cooperation flourished with the result that "China-EU relations now are better than any time in history".
In addition, the paper states, "there is no fundamental conflict of interest between China and the EU and neither side poses a threat to the other." Different views or disagreements could be addressed in a spirit of equality and mutual respect.
The key sentence in my view is:
"China is committed to a long-term, stable and full partnership with the EU" with three broad objectives:
promote political relations and contribute to world peace and stability
deepen economic co-operation
expand cultural and people-to-people exchanges.
There are quite a number qualifications under which these goals should be achieved such as "the principles of mutual respect, mutual trust, mutual benefit, mutual emulation, common prosperity and complementarity, reciprocity and consultation on an equal basis ..." and so forth.
In my interpretation these conditions allow to steer the broad objectives according to changing interests or circumstances. China wants to remain master of its foreign policy agenda.
But on the whole, the choice of words is friendly, well crafted, the tone has a very positive connotation.
In the detailed part of the paper China spells out its expectations to the EU in the field of Economic and Trade relations, the WTO agenda or Sector Policies such as Energy or the Environment. Some of these points have meanwhile been agreed upon by the recent EU-China Summit in Beijing on October 30th, 2003, such as the Approved Destination Status liberalizing visits of Chinese tourists to the EU or the Chinese participation in the Galileo satellite project.
In the Chapter "Strengthen China - EU Cooperation in All Fields" China formulates its expectations to a number of critical issues, such as Taiwan, Tibet, the Human Rights dialogue or the EU arms embargo.
On the Human Rights dialogue, for example, China "appreciates the EU’s persistent position for dialogue" and "stands ready to continue dialogue so as to enhance mutual understanding and deepen cooperation in protecting inter alia citizen’s social and cultural rights and the rights of the disadvantaged".
In this chapter we find also a reference to Hong Kong and Macao under the Heading “Encourage Hong Kong and Macao's cooperation with EU:
The Central Government of China supports and encourages the Hong Kong and Macao Special Administrative Regions in developing friendly relations and cooperation with the EU in accordance with the principle of "one country - two systems" and the provisions of the Basic Laws and on the basis of equality and mutual benefit.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I come back to the initial question when I reversed the order of the topic by first asking for the European perspectives on China and then on Hong Kong. What are the European Perspectives on Hong Kong within the framework of this overall EU policy towards China?
Let me give you the answer from the outset:
For the European Union Hong Kong does matter because of China.
The European Union is not following events in Hong Kong for legalistic reasons, for example, to testify whether the commitments of the Sino-British Joint Declaration continue to be implemented faithfully. It is not for the sake of the maintenance of the lifestyle, rights and freedoms of the European expatriate communities or the degree to which European companies can enjoy the benefits of the economic, legal or fiscal system of Hong Kong when carrying out their businesses in the region or in mainland China.
The strategic interest in Hong Kong stems from the fact whether and to which degree Hong Kong fulfills its role as what Daniel Fung judiciously described in an address to a Conference held in the German University City of Rostock in 1997, 2 ˝ months before the hand-over, as the "Sherpa Paradigm": Hong Kong as China's guide to the 21st century with regard to rule of law, free enterprise spirit and level playing field, clean government and the free flow of information.
And I would add to this list from my point of view: why not also serving as a Sherpa in the field of political reform and democratization?
Such an approach cannot be a one-way-road, it must certainly take into account the assumed or perceived perspectives which the Central Government has towards Hong Kong.
Looking at the past months it seems fair to say that Beijing follows two objectives:, and they have explicitly been formulated by Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and other senior officials in recent months:
The Central Government's attitude, in my view, can be synthesized in the emphasis put on the two words: prosperity and stability.
Many actions taken by the Central Authorities support this view: the conclusion of CEPA, the relaxation of visa requirements for individual mainland tourists visiting Hong Kong, the support for the Pearl River Delta bridge, the support for Hong Kong's successful application for the 2009 East Asian Games, the visit of Astronaut Yang Liwei to Hong Kong, the Hong Kong - Shanghai twinship arrangement, etc.
A common perception is that a reviving economy would minimize social discontent and absorb calls for further political reforms.
This equation may, indeed, pay out in the short and medium term.
But given the political culture of Hong Kong, it seems neither desirable nor likely that Hong Kong will proceed towards a sort of "Singaporization", a path which some political scientists predicted before the 1997 handover.
My point does not in any way suggest that the Central Government is not serious in fulfilling the obligations it has undertaken with regard to the One Country - Two systems concept. There can be no doubt that the Central authorities have scrupulously observed these obligations over the last 6 years. Beijing did not do anything, as sometimes war feared before the handover, which would have transformed Hong Kong into just another Chinese city of about 7 millions like Wuhan or so.
It can only be speculated to which degree the Central Government will allow Hong Kong to proceed with constitutional reforms which will lead to a new form of representative government as a result of elections based upon universal suffrage.
The question is more complex than just to say 'Beijing is against democracy in Hong Kong and will refuse universal suffrage'.
You know better than I do the complexity of the Hong Kong political reality.
A couple of months ago, Professor Kuan of the Chinese University in Hong Kong stated here in front of the same forum that Hong Kong's problem was the institutional fragmentation of its political system, and he concluded that in order to alleviate this fragmentation a pluralist and competitive party system had to be set up. The next step of constitutional development should therefore be a review of the anti-partisan political culture and anti-partisan institutional arrangements.
I believe that the European view to these complex discussions ahead will be a position of unreserved support:
While economic and social reform processes are under way in China, Hong Kong should carry on with advancing in the political field. Hong Kong should broaden the basis towards further political modernization, a process which is fully in line with its constitutional framework, the Basic Law. Serving as a Sherpa for China in demonstrating that the gradual transformation of a political system does not run against the principles of stability and prosperity may be one of the most ambitious and rewarding challenges for Hong Kong.
I wish that Hong Kong citizens be more aware of this service they can render to the motherland and I thank you for your attention.
The above does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation.