Today, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson delivered a stinging rebuke to Beijing. “During the summer some Chinese officials pointed out that less than 1 percent of China’s exports to Europe had alleged health risks,” Mandelson noted in a speech in the Chinese capital. “But Europe imports half a billion euros worth of goods from China every day—so even 1 percent is not acceptable.” The trade commissioner then told Beijing that “consumer safety is a zero-compromise issue.” Vice Premier Wu Yi, China’s so-called Iron Lady, was angry as she spoke to reporters afterwards. “I am extremely dissatisfied,” she said.
Her boss, President Hu Jintao, was also reported to be a bit peeved today. He got rough treatment from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who lectured the autocrat to his face in public. Sarkozy covered, among other things, the value of China’s currency, intellectual property, and human rights. The Chinese undoubtedly are bewildered by today’s events—they have not seen Euros act like this since Tiananmen.
Mandelson’s address and Sarkozy’s criticism come on the eve of the 10th China-European Union summit. Despite the fact that Beijing just placed large orders with Airbus and France’s Areva, observers say that the discussions this week in the Chinese capital will be tense. “For Europe, the ‘China honeymoon’ is over,” writes David Shambaugh of George Washington University.
We may think that Europeans are effete and spineless, but when was the last time someone from the Bush administration publicly told the Chinese off in their own capital? American officials like to speak about working cooperatively with China to solve “concerns,” while the Europeans are venting frustrations after years of useless dialogue. The welcomed departures of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder mark a change of mood in the heart of the EU. Perhaps President Bush should now take his cue from the new version of Old Europe.