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Workshop Report 'European NGO, China and the European Union’s policy on China: Civil society perceptions, approaches and perspectives under the microscope'

Workshop 'European NGO, China and the European Union’s policy on China:
Civil society perceptions, approaches and perspectives under the microscope'
Tuesday, April 29th, 2008, 11.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m.
IG Metall, Wilhelm-Leuschner-Str. 79, Frankfurt/Main

(1) Purpose of the workshop

The purpose of the workshop was to throw some light on European civil society perceptions, approaches and perspectives regarding (a) EU’s policy on China and (b) selected aspects of China’s development. The invitation to the workshop included the following preliminary ques-tions: “Which images of China are forming civil society commitment? How do European civil society actors assess the inconsistent and contradictory developments in China? How do these actors perceive the emerging civil society discourses in China? How do they judge the European Union’s policy on China – and how do they attempt to influence it? Finally, how do European civil society actors rate their own chances to influence EU’s policy or even Chi-nese developments? Do they believe that they can make a difference – and if so, how?”

(2) Inputs

The following inputs were given:

Dr. Christa Wichterich, WIDE - Women in Development Europe (Bonn): EU`s Partnership and Co-operation Policies with China

Klaus Heidel, Werkstatt Ökonomie e.V. (Heidelberg): China a ”Sweatshop” and the extended workbench of industrialized countries? The product campaigns` implicit and explicit images of China and demands

Sven Hansen, taz - die tageszeitung (Berlin): Between human rights dialogue and calls to boycott: perceptions and demands of human rights organizations

Christoph Bals, Executive Director – Policy, Germanwatch (Bonn): Climate killers and right to development: How environment organizations perceive China and what they expect from the European-Chinese relations

(3) General insights

The workshop collected some general insights which are valid for all specific aspects and topics the workshop dealt with.

(3.1) European politics and EU policy in particular as well as European civil society including many civil society organizations don’t perceive Chinese civil society organizations and their positions in a sufficient manner although this is only limited valid for environment organiza-tions.

(3.2) There are some contradictions and even dilemmas European civil society organizations (and European civil society in general) have to deal with:

On the one hand, consumer or human rights campaigns have to follow the rules of a public shaped by mass media (reduction of complexity, single issue campaigns etc.). On the other hand there is a certain danger that messages which tend to reduce complexity too much could implicitly transport images of China which promote generalizing perceptions. Comparable observations could be made with regard to the media.
European trade unions and workers’ councils have to cooperate with the All China Federation of Trade Unions, its affiliates and regional and local organizations. This official trade union relationship is certainly a constructive contribution to the improvement of industrial relations and therefore indispensable. On the other hand, contacts on the shop floor level are one of the most important conditions for getting an appropriate picture of industrial relations and labour conditions.
On the one hand, European civil society is concerned by human rights violations in China. At the same time it is obvious that the human rights situation improved – but it is difficult to assess to which extent and in which areas.
On the one hand, European civil society has to acknowledge the right to development for China. On the other hand, the Chinese path of development has severe ecological consequences. European civil society organizations call for a sustainable development in China whilst being far away from sustainability themselves.

(3.3) The EU’s policy on China is also contradictory. It fluctuates between economic and political interests, between economic calculation, human rights rhetoric and substantive human rights initiatives. There are many contradictions even in the field of economics (as Dr. Christa Wichterich pointed out). European civil society organizations are challenged to find answers to this multiple contradictory situation.

Input of Christa Wichterich


EU-China: Civil Society Forum