MEPs and China mark change in relationship
By Philip Ebels
With the aim of better understanding each other, members of the five big political groups in the European Parliament have met with members of the one big political group in the National People's Congress of China, in what has been described as a “changing” and "very friendly" climate.
The three-day meeting in Brussels - from Tuesday to Thursday (31 May) - was the third of its kind and brought together two delegations of more than 50 people each, including Wang Jiarui, the head of the International Department of the Communist Party of China (IDCPC), and Martin Schultz, the president of the European Parliament.
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The politicians talked about a range of issues, including such hot potatoes as human rights, climate change, trade relations and the situation in Syria. "There was a very intense discussion on human rights [between Schultz and Wang]," German Green MEP Reinhard Butikofer, who chaired the meeting, told EUobserver.
The meeting came one week after MEPs endorsed a resolution condemning China for shielding its rapidly growing domestic market from EU companies, and amid political and economic turmoil both in China and the EU.
China earlier this year lowered its growth expectation for 2012 (from 8 to 7.5 percent) due to falling global demand. Politically, it is preparing for a change of the guards while still licking its wounds after two separate but equally embarrassing events - the spectacular fall of a rising political star and the escape of a blind activist under house arrest. For its part, of course, the EU is in crisis.
But despite the upheaval and intense discussions, relations have never been better, so it seems. "[The crisis] has created more space and opportunity for cooperation," Li Jinjun, vice-minister of the IDCPC, said on Thursday. In his opening speech on Tuesday, Wang called for “a new type of China-EU relationship”, based on “mutual respect” and “common development”.
Participants hailed the annual meetings, dubbed the EU-China High Level Political Parties and Groups Forum, as a binding factor between the two political powerhouses.
“We have strengthened our mutual understanding and trust,” Li said. “The kind of dialogue we have had was unimaginable a few years ago.”
Belgian centre-left MEP Veronique De Keyser, a loyal participant to the forum since the first in May 2010 in Beijing, told EUobserver that, if anything, the meetings have helped the two sides to warm up to each other.
“The climate is changing,” she said. “The tone was very direct, but very friendly. In Beijing, the climate was cold like a fridge.” Butikofer agrees. The atmosphere, he says, “was clearly more open, more candid” than before.