Stefan Friedrich, China und die Europäische Union: Europas weltpolitische Rolle aus chinesischer Sicht

The focus of Stefan Friedrich’s book on China-EU relations,
which is a revised version of his doctoral thesis from the University of Heidelberg,
is revealed in its subtitle: Europe’s role in world politics from a Chinese
perspective.
Friedrich’s aim is to analyse Sino-European relations from
a Chinese perspective, i.e. how China’s foreign policy is perceived
from an “inner” Chinese standpoint rather than from an “outer”
European one. The theoretical framework of perception research was first applied
to China by David Shambaugh in his work on Chinese-American relations in 1987.
Shambaugh demonstrates that the Chinese perception of the US is actually determined
by “articulated perceptions” of a small non-Marxist “influential
elite” located at some of China’s government think tanks (see below).
Friedrich further modifies Shambaugh’s framework (pp. 39-43) by distinguishing
between “articulated perceptions” and “actual perceptions”.
He argues that opinions articulated in journals and other sources do not necessarily
represent the true cognitive beliefs (“actual perceptions”) of the respective
authors as the major political think tanks in China are not independent research
institutes but part of and serving the political apparatus. Friedrich’s approach
seems to be more than plausible but remains rather speculative and murky. Furthermore,
it doesn’t seem particularly exciting: I would rather take it for granted
that anyone who is remotely familiar with Chinese politics would take the current
political context under which political analysts at government research institutes
are operating into careful consideration and not necessarily equate an author’s
published opinion with his/her true beliefs.

Friedrich’s study covers the period from the 1981-95
when important changes in Chinese foreign policy took place. In the early eighties,
China eventually abandoned the theory-driven approach to foreign policy (such
as the “Three Worlds Theory” adopted in 1974) and replaced it by reliance
on some high-profile foreign policy research institutes. Friedrich devotes Part
I ( pp. 49-87) of his book to background information on the role of political
research institutes in political decision making. He gives a detailed and insightful
description of the structure, research focus, staff and publications of the three
research institutes on which his study is based, namely the Chinese Institute
for International Studies
, Chinese Institute for Contemporary International
Relations
and the Europe Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social
Sciences
. Friedrich’s point that these journals are party publications
rather than scientific journals—in spite of relatively little ideological
ballast—is more than convincing.

In Part II (pp. 93-174), Friedrich presents the material he
analyses, firstly, with respect to the development of the Chinese global perception
(Chapter 4), and secondly, with respect to the development of China’s perception
of the European Union (Chapter 5). The Chinese perception of the international
arena is divided into five different phases (trends) which are mainly determined
by China’s perception of the superpowers, the United States and the Soviet
Union. Between 1993-95 China is seeing multipolarity as the dominant trend in
the new world order, and, consequently, the European Union starts being seen as
an increasingly important player on the global scene with increasing importance
for China.

Chapter 5 is a thorough and resourceful description of the
development of China’s EU-perception. It is interesting to follow that the
choice of topics and their interpretation depend on Chinese internal developments
rather than on developments within the EU. Not surprisingly, the deterioration
of relations between the European Union and China after June 4th 1989 is not mentioned
at all. Due to its economic success and Europe’s comparative economic weakness,
China is becoming increasingly confident as shown in the recommendation that Europe
should build closer links with China to solve its crisis (p.159). As for EU-internal
issues, China’s Europe watchers are driven by pragmatic considerations: The
focus is on those European experiences which might be applicable to the Chinese
reform process, e.g. agricultural reforms.

In the third part of the book (pp. 181-239; Chapters 6 and
7), Friedrich presents his analysis of the investigated material within the theoretical
framework of “articulated perception”. He argues convincingly that the
Chinese perception of the European Union is not driven by the developments within
the European Union but within China. Political analysts do not aim at giving an
accurate account of EU policy. Their “articulated perceptions” can only
be understood if the political situation and power balance in China is taken into
account. Furthermore, Friedrich shows that the theory of “articulated perceptions
is not foreign to Chinese tradition. The concept of tianxia—the sinocentric
vision of the world in which the civilised world is identical with the Chinese
empire’s sphere of influence—is influencing today’s “articulated
perceptions”.

Friedrich’s book is a thorough and insightful study of
China-EU relations that combines resourcefulness with theoretical depth. It will
certainly contribute to an understanding of China’s relationship with the
European Union and of Chinese foreign policy in general.

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