The question of strategic partnership has been brought up when assessing EU’s foreign policy relations with the United States, Russia, and China. In particular, the debate surrounds the EU’s ambiguous relationship with China, often marred by political hostility exhibited by the United States. EU-China relations have been officially declared as a strategic partnership. Does the EU have a strategic partnership with China? Can the EU have such a partnership and sustain it? This post hopes to engage cynics who are critical of the notion “strategic partnership”, in order to come up with a more constructive concept to describe EU’s equivocal relationship with China. This discussion would help with the evaluation of foreign policy actions undertaken by the EU.
A) How can we define strategic partnership?
Definition: Strategic partnership is a political relationship, entails having cooperation in areas of strategic and security issues (Song 2012)
* Doesn’t China fit this criteria?
B) The Case of the Arms Embargo
EU arms embargo against China was placed following the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre. The EU member states still trade arms with China despite this embargo.
1) EU-China strategic partnership has failed to develop because the EU is embedded in a pre-existing strategic alliance with the United States. Engaging in such alliance means that the EU is obliged to align its interest in tandem with the United States. Taking into consideration the context of US-China strategic rivalry, the prospects of EU-China developing into a strategic partnership is prohibited because the EU is compelled to align with the US rather than China in such a triumvirate relationship. Thus, the arms embargo is not reflective of a “strategic partnership”, and the EU is unable to lift the ban as the partnership with the US is paramount
2) The EU-China strategic partnership exists as the “debate” about lifting the arms embargo still exists. The EU has not outright denied the possible lifting of the ban, and has constantly reiterated that there is room for discussion to eventually remove the ban. Scholars such as David Shambaugh argue that there is an emerging axis, with the EU turning towards China. With trade and political ties burgeoning over the last decade between the two parties, the call to term their relationship “strategic partnership” is validated. Considerations to make and break the arms embargo are made in order to strengthen the relationship the EU has with China. This argument thus believes that more than one “strategic partnership” can exist, as most countries share strategic ties with both the US and China.
* Thus, for a strategic partnership to exist, does it have to be exclusive?