Portugal places China and Africa at the top of the EU agenda

28 May 2007

Lisbon, Portugal, 28 May – Portugal has placed China and Africa at the top of the priority list for the European Union (EU) for the second half of the year, when the country takes on the European presidency.

The crescendo of diplomatic relations between Portugal and China over the last few years due to the exclusive granting of “strategic partner” status, has even led some analysts to predict that the Portuguese presidency could serve as a pretext for joint efforts to resolve “delicate” outstanding issues.

These include the embargo on sale of European arms to China (since 1989), human rights and – the most significant – recognising the Asian giant as a market economy.

“The European Union wants to encourage China on its road to progress; growing economically allows people to live better and China’s opening up is important for the whole world,” Portuguese prime minister José Sócrates said on a visit to China February.

But, he added, any agreement during the EU-China Summit, scheduled for November “will require negotiations.”

The Portuguese presidency is also occurring at a time when relations between Europe and the Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of Macau and Hong Kong is seeing a boost, underlined by the recent publication, by the European Commission, of a report defending expansion of cooperation, including creating a financial support instrument, which may be presented in time for the bilateral summit.

The report entitled “The European Union, Hong Kong and Macau: Possibilities for Cooperation 2007-2013″ identifies seven key areas for cooperation: trade, finance, civil relations (including academic), transport, environment, health and food safety.

The basis of trade relations is Hong Kong, but for Macau the European Union is its third-biggest trading partner and “despite there only being some companies,” from EU countries in the former Portuguese territory, “those that are there are satisfied with infrastructures and communication,” the report said.

Given the current level of relations, said the document adopted by the Commission, “dialogue and cooperation should be boosted by a European Union financial instrument.”

This report was on the table at the last meeting (12th) of the Mixed EC-Macau Commission, in February, a body that will meet again in the second half of the year, during the Portuguese presidency.

In light of the report’s conclusions, both sides have made a “commitment to cooperate closely in areas of mutual interest.”

Almost at the same time as the summit with China another will be held with the African continent, the organization of which is a “headache” for Lisbon, and some officials even doubt that it will go ahead.

This is because some European countries, particularly the United Kingdom, object to Zimbabwe being invited, due to human rights violations by the regime of President Robert Mugabe, while other African states, including Angola, refuse to be present unless Zimbabwe attends.

According to some analysts, the European Union wants to highlight the importance of its social and historical links with Africa, at a time when many African countries see China, which has focused on its involvement in the continent, as their favorite partner in terms of trade and diplomacy.

Others highlight that, if the Portuguese presidency is in fact favourable for relations between the EU and China, the summit could allow for an important clarification of the differing approaches of the two blocs to particular issue on the African continent.

Two cases in point are the Sudan and Zimbabwe, in which China has focused on developing strong commercial ties, while the European Union has placed the condition of resolving serious humanitarian issues on establishing ties with these two African countries. (macauhub)