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The Issues of Identity in the EU-China Relationship

Reuben Wong

This paper argues that rather than trade competition, ideology, civilizational differences, or changes in the international balance of power, the root of frequent swingsbetween cooperation and conflict in the EU-China relationship lies in their ever-changing identities. As China’s roles expand and rise in the international system, Chinais forced to re-evaluate its identity and preferences, choosing to selectively remember or forget symbols and representations of the past and present (Thurston 2001).Transitioning from a developing country to an important member of the international system, its self-image has undergone a dramatic revolution (Economy andOksenberg 1999; Yong 2001; Chen 2007). The EU meanwhile, has expanded from an EC-9 of similar Western democracies in 1975, to an EU-27 of diverse countriesby 2007. Its attempt to develop a distinctive European presence in world affairs - that of ‘normative power’ Europe quot; set it on a course of collision with China, otherdeveloping countries, and also the United States, Russia and the Arab world (Adler 2010).These changes in identity have important consequences for actions and foreign policy interactions. We can thus expect China-EU relations to develop in the context ofthe ongoing redefinition of their identities and roles in the evolving international order. Both China and the EU will likely continue to respond to each other according tothe needs and demands of their respective populations, and to the external expectations placed on them as important players in global politics, diplomacy, economics,trade, finance and security.

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