The conference, organised by ECAN, the EU-China Academic Network, featured substantial Chinese academic, economic and diplomatic representation despite the abruptly cancellation of the annual EU-China summit, which was due to be held on 1 December (EurActiv 27/11/08).
Speaking to the audience, Song Zhe, China's ambassador to the EU, described what had happened as "unfortunate". But he expressed hope that the setback would trigger "cool-minded reflection" about EU-China relations.
The ambassador called on the West to pay more respect to issues "of core interest" to China. "When it comes to the questions involving sovereignty and territorial integrity, there is no room for compromise and concession for China. Applying pressure on China on issues of this kind by whomever and in whatever form is not wise, nor will it work, and it will only end up hurting our common interests," said Song.
Academic conference 'not ideological'
Fraser Cameron, ECAN's project manager, told EurActiv that in no way had the cancelled summit negatively impacted upon the conference. He called it a "very successful" event and categorically insisted that the messages of the Chinese participants were not politicised.
"That was the ambassador's role. The Chinese experts produced inputs on different aspects of political and economic developments in China, focused on issues as the role of sovereign funds, the importance of clean technology and prospects for future EU-China cooperation. It was not at all an ideological confrontation, it was very much looking forward, and I think we should do more of this to reduce misperceptions on both sides," Cameron stated.
Giuseppe Balducci, a researcher at the College of Europe, argued that Europe's failure to promote human rights in China was a consequence of the complicated institutional settings of the European foreign policy decision-making system. EU countries also have heterogeneous interests when it comes to the promotion of human rights in China, Balducci said. In his view, all this led Europe, in the specific case of China, to become a "normative trap" rather than a "normative power".
But the main focus of the conference was economics. Most speakers observed that a comparison of notes from previous ECAN conferences revealed that China was now transforming its business system rapidly. The country has a genuine interest in a peaceful world so it can focus on its internal development, they noticed.