EU-China Summit and EU Soft Power

Also of note this week was the EU-China summit, which seems to have gone a bit smoother than the EU-Russia summit I mentioned. One predictable point of contention was the EU’s insistence on human rights concerns (Tibet, Burma), to which Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao replied, in so many, Mind your own business. That they will, of course.

Still, what caught my eye is how much weight the EU’s much-derided soft power really carries, after all. Not necessarily in the realm of human rights, where Wen could basically send it packing, but in the power of its market to exert a normative function. Responding to EU concerns about the trade imbalance, Wen agreed to send a trade mission to Europe with a full purse and the order to spend. But also, significantly, he lobbied for the EU to grant China the status of “market economy,” in order to lift anti-dumping penalties on Chinese goods sold in Europe. A lot of folks seem to overlook that normative influence — also felt in product safety standards — in dismissing the EU as a global actor, but apparently the Chinese are not among them.