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Stronger united Europe is 'in the interests of China'

By Fu Jing and Gao Shuang in Brussels (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2016-02-18 23:09

 Stronger united Europe is 'in the interests of China'

As European leaders gather in Brussels to discuss a new deal on UK membership of the European Union, China analysts in Europe say a stronger and united Europe is in Chinese interests.

The in-out referendum planned in the UK is being hotly debated, and analysts expressed concern over how the consequences would affect bilateral relationship between China and the UK, as well as China and the EU.

The European Union leaders will seek to agree a legally binding settlement at the summit on Thursday and Friday after Prime Minister David Cameron set out his plans for a referendum in the UK last June. If a deal is agreed, the referendum could be held as early as June this year.

Facing terrorism, migration and economic crises, Cameron and other European leaders have been busy trying to reach compromises on the reform agenda for the European Union, at the same time trying to keep UK within the organization.

Bart Kerremans, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences of Leuven University in Belgium, said the in-out referendum could have an immediate effect on the debate inside the EU on the Market Economy Status of China, which Beijing believes should be automatically granted as part of its World Trade Organization accession agreement.

Kerremans said that given the explicit objective of the Cameron government to establish closer ties with China – even in some cases against the will of the UK’s traditionally biggest ally, the US - it actively supports the granting of MES to China.

He said the US is much more reluctant in that regard and also inside the EU there are supporters, such as Sweden, Belgium and the Netherlands, and opponents, mainly the southern members of the EU.

"In an EU without the UK, that could be different, specifically as many hesitations exists," said Kerremans.

But Fredrik Erixon, Director of the Brussels-based European Centre for International Political Economy (ECIPE), said he is not sure the referendum will have much of an impact, other than reinforcing the view of those in Beijing who are uncertain about the vitality and strength of the EU.

"Should the UK decide to leave, however, it would make life more difficult for China," said Erixon.

He said Chinese companies with trade and investment ties to bilateral UK-EU trade would possibly have to change their operations and an EU without the UK would be an EU that is less desirous of free trade relationships with other countries, including China.

"And a weaker EU, which would be the consequence of Brexit, is not in China's interest," said Erixon. "Like other powers have learnt before China, a Europe that is coordinated and cooperative through common institution is far easier to deal with than a Europe that is split."

Christopher Hill, professor of the Department of Politics and International Studies of Cambridge University said a British exit would make it more difficult for the UK to conduct its bilateral relationship with China, given the weight that Beijing places on its economic dealings with the EU.

"Inevitably China would look at the UK as a relatively isolated middle power, without the capacity to lead the European bloc," said Hill, author of The National Interest in Question--Foreign Policy in Multicultural Societies.

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