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DISAGGREGATING CHINESE PERCEPTIONS OF THE EU AND THE IMPLICATIONS FOR THE EU’S CHINA POLICY

Final Report Summary - CHINESEVIEWSOFEU (Disaggregating Chinese perceptions of the EU and the implications for the EU's China policy)

As China's global power and influence grows, it is critically important for the European Union to forge a close and mutually supportive relationship with the largest population in the world. A better understanding of the opportunities and challenges in China will enable the European Union institutions and nation States to develop an appropriate response to the rise of China as an economic and political giant. It is therefore crucial for Europeans to study closely how Chinese people regard the European Union. This understanding will also enhance the ability of the European institutions in the economic, political, cultural and educational sectors to develop more effective relations with China.

Through surveys, interviews, and focus groups, this study looked into how Europe was perceived by the Chinese general public, government officials, intellectuals, business and civil society. It produced a comprehensive picture of how Chinese people saw the European Union, i.e. how China viewed its opportunities and challenges in dealing with the European Union, how different government agencies viewed the EU, how government views differed from those of business and civil society, and how opinion in Beijing differed from that in the provinces.

The recommendations from this study were anticipated to lead to much more effective policies for the European Union to deal with China. New knowledge from this research would also help advance a number of social science disciplines.

Great uncertainties loom over the Europe and China relationship. On the one hand, the two sides share many common interests in promoting peace and development in the world, are engaged in a much heralded strategic partnership and conduct regular policy dialogues in many fields. On the other hand, in many specific issue areas, the two sides are facing increasingly intense rivalries and conflicts.

A more effective European Union China policy had to be based on a thorough understanding of China's behaviour in its interaction with Europe. To achieve this goal, it was firstly important to disaggregate the different Chinese perceptions of the European Union and to understand them. Since these different perceptions were based on the views of various interest groups, analysing the views of key groups in China would enable us to understand what underlay China's responses to the European Union's various initiatives. Important knowledge was also lacking regarding how the critical institutions in China perceived these issues and how they were likely to respond to European initiatives.

The overall objective of the CHINESEVIEWSOFEU project was firstly to capture a comprehensive and up to date understanding of China's perceptions of the European Union, secondly to provide new insights into Europe and China relations for European institutions and thirdly to help the European Union develop more effective strategies for a productive relationship with China.

The project public survey, as well as the elite survey complemented by the elite interviews, systematically covered a series of topics. To start with, it was found that the salient concepts of Europe perceived by the Chinese public were dominated by the impression on the biggest three powers in the Europe, the United Kingdom, France and Germany plus Russia regarding country, city and historical figures. The actual knowledge that the Chinese public had on the European Union was limited, but the knowledge level was much higher among the elite groups. Both Chinese public and elite showed positive attitude to different extents toward European political, economic, social and cultural elements. In terms of Chinese perception towards the European Union in comparison with other major powers in the world, both Chinese public and elite liked the European Union and the European citizens the most over the United States of America, Russia and Japan and their people.

According to the survey, while Chinese public held an overwhelming positive view towards the European Union's role in world peace, international economy, environmental protection, scientific progress, fighting poverty in the world and fighting international terrorism, the elite groups were more cautious in giving positive answers. While the Chinese public believed the United States of America was still the most influential actor in the world in both political and economic aspects, the elite groups expressed such a view even stronger. Interestingly, though the public put China ahead of the European Union in terms of both political and economic influence, the Chinese elite ranked China largely behind Europe. Chinese public and elite also showed divergence of opinions regarding the current and future bilateral relations between the European Union and China, but the general views were positive.

Besides containing a number of same questions as the public survey in order to draw comparison, the elite survey also designed questions to address elite groups only. We found more elites that were not satisfied with the European Union's China policy than those who were satisfied. There was very limited understanding between the European Union and Chinese public in each other's society and political institutions, though they were still able to appreciate each other's culture. For the Chinese elite, Chinese public slightly did better in terms of understanding and much better in appreciation than their European Union counterpart. The areas for strengthening cooperation between China and the European Union were still dominated by economy and trade, though the non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers put climate and environment as the priority. Most controversial issues in China and European relations were topped by the 'human rights issue', 'Tibet issue' and 'institutional difference between China and the European Union' perceived by the elite groups. Further questions regarding different controversial issues also saw divergence of opinions among the five elite groups.

In particular, as for the opinions of Chinese government officials on the European Union, over 80 % had a good impression of the European Union, better than of the United States of America, Japan and Russia. Most assessed Europe's international influence as positive; most saw the European concept of democracy and the spreading of European culture in China as positive; most were unhappy with the European Union's stance on climate change, about pressure for the appreciation of the Renminbi (RMB) and the EU's stance on human rights; most said they lacked knowledge on the European Union's role in fighting poverty and international terrorism; most officials confirmed the importance of Europe and China cooperation in international affairs and most officials said they needed to improve their understanding and study of the European Union's democratic politics.

As for the focus group interviews that were held in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Nanning in Southwest and Xian in Northwest, responses showed impact of 2008 Tibet crisis and European protests during the Olympic torch rallies. The focus group interviews mainly involved educated young males of high social status and the results revealed a much more negative view on controversial issues than the surveys.

Key policy implications could be concluded that the European Union had huge reservoir of goodwill in China, including, perhaps surprisingly, officials, despite differences over human rights and democracy. The more people knew about the European Union, the more positively they viewed it. Europe therefore had an opportunity to build on this to improve relations with China across the board, and the environment, civil society development and the internet were major opportunities for the European Union to develop closer relations.

Our findings would help the European Commission and its various departments as well as European Union member states to rethink and redesign their China policies. Our policy recommendations and suggestions based on our findings would enable the European Union to grasp the different dynamics within different sections of Chinese society at large, and within the various institutions and levels within its huge government machine. European Union policy makers would be able to master much better the regional and societal dimensions of China's European policies as a result.

A policy approach of the European Union that understood and took into account the intra-governmental, inter-regional and inter-sectoral diversities and differences would be much more effective. This study was the only scientific way to develop the thorough understanding of China that was required in order to develop the appropriate policy recommendations that were needed to enable a thorough transformation of the bilateral trade and investment relationship. In other policy areas such as energy security, green technology and climate change, policy recommendations from this study would be of great importance.

In politics and diplomacy, the policy recommendations from this study would facilitate much greater cooperation from China on issues such as the Iran nuclear crisis and the control of human trafficking and illegal immigration, significantly improving security in the European Union. Our findings would also contribute to more effective projection of the European Union's image in China, leading to significant improvement in terms of the European Union's 'soft power' in China.

This project would also move the state of the art in several fields of academic studies in the European Union. Political scientists, sociologists and economists, among others, would benefit from the knowledge and data that this study produced. This study offered an ambitious, innovative, comprehensive and multi-method way of examining opinion forming in a vast society towards an external object.

Simply, the findings from this study themselves were anticipated to be a significant addition to the European Union academic world's knowledge base. This study would provide a comprehensive picture of how the European Union was perceived in a different society, whether our understanding of the European Union identity was accurate, and whether the European Union's self-perception was completely out of place in another part of the world.

In a word, the results and policy implications generated from this project had potential impacts in both academic community and policy communities. The impacts included great benefit to the communication and integration of European Union and China scholarly communities, more effectiveness in the European Union's China policy and the coherence in a European wide China policy.

An international conference and a policy workshop were organised in Chatham House, London on 16 and 17 February 2011. The objectives of the events were to disseminate the research findings and engage with scholars, business people and policy communities concerning European Union's international image, Europe China relations, political sciences, communication studies and international studies. The conference attracted over 90 participants and received positive feedbacks from the audiences and the media. The policy brainstorming workshop was arranged after the conference in London. A tentative schedule was decided on writing policy suggestions to help European stakeholders in developing more effective strategies for achieving productive relations with China. According to the plan project colleagues separately prepared policy papers, using a unified template, and sent them to Nottingham. An additional policy workshop was also organised in Chatham House, London, on June 2011. Team members of different working groups produced a total of 16 policy papers. It was a policy consultation session, where we gathered a small group of people familiar with the European Union's China policies to give comments and feedbacks. We discussed how we could improve the dissemination of the main results to policy makers, drawing on the expertise from invited discussants and colleagues. This input helped us to revise the policy papers and prepare for our policy briefs during dissemination events.

Moreover, an international conference was held in Beijing on 29 and 30 October 2011, which gathered together most consortium members and participants from the European Union representatives, government, academic and media institutions. A public forum was also held in Renmin University on 30 October 2011. The forum was covered by several main Medias in China.

During the last final three months of the project a total of seven dissemination events were held in six European countries to communicate the results of the project to academics, policy makers, the media and other interested parties. A total of 12 members of the team took part in these events, from all six partners, with different members taking part in different events.

More information regarding the project activities and findings could be obtained at 'http://nottingham.ac.uk/cpi/research/funded-projects/chinese-eu/index.aspx'.