After 25 years of economic reform, China has become a global economic factor in many ways. Its share in global trade has continually gone up and in 2003 it became the third largest trading nation in the world (behind Germany and the US). The center of gravity in the Asia-Pacific region is shifting in China's direction in terms of imports and investment flows. China's growing integration into the world economy has created new interdependencies and is influencing the world economy. This economic weight also begins to translate into political clout. In recent years, China has started initiatives to improve ties with its direct neighbors and with other great powers like the EU and it seems to be more comfortable with multi-lateralism. China's foreign policy is intended to create tolerance for its rising power ("peaceful emergence" heping jueqi).
The present US-administration distanced itself from characterizing the relationship with China as a "strategic partnership" (as former President Clinton had done). Instead, China was considered a "strategic competitor" and is now seen as a cooperative partner. The EU, on the other hand, in 2003 declared its intention to make China one of its strategic partners. Without overestimationg the significance of such labels, it can be argued that they stand for /represent divergent approaches vis-á-vis China.
The focus of the working group will be on China's possible rise as a major economic and political actor and on diverging perceptions of and reactions to this development.
The US is a Pacific power with a strong military presence and bilateral alliances in the Asia-Pacific region. China is now perceived as the most likely future challenger of US power in the region. US policy vis-á-vis China consists of a mixture of engagement and containment, with one element prevailing over the other depending on shifting priorities in US foreign policy and election cycles (Lampton), among other factors. Advocacy of engagement / containment can roughly be identified with different institutions and actors within the present US administration, but a dividing line also runs through the two political parties.
For the European side, one issue to deal with within the trans-Atlantic framework is US negligence of European views and approaches (due to the EU's irrelevance as an actor in the region). In the past, European countries have been focusing on their respective economic interests vis-á-vis China, while at the same time (and to safeguard their economic interests) trying to further the rule of law in China. A general interest in stability, peace and prosperity in the region, which could be imperiled if China destabilizes, has led the EU to stick to a comprehensive engagement policy which aims at improving the chances that China becomes a responsible and rule-abiding player in international politics. Europeans don't feel threatened by China's rise as much as Americans do (they feel more threatened by the scenario of a destabilizing or collapsing China). It could be argued that since it has no hard security interests in the region, the EU could afford a more benign attitude towards China. The EU declared in 2003 its intention to make China one of its full-fledged strategic partners. Thus, the decision to offer China participation in the Galileo satellite navigation system goes beyond traditional economic interests.