Relations with Europe

Relations with Europe

Although it had been the European powers that precipitated the opening of China to the West in the nineteenth century, by 1949 the European presence was limited to Hong Kong and Macao. Europe exerted a strong intellectual influence on modern Chinese leaders (Marxism and Leninism of course originated in Europe), and some leaders, including Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping, studied in Europe early in their careers. Nevertheless, China's geographic distance from Europe, its preoccupation with the superpowers, and the division of Europe after World War II have meant that China's relations with European nations usually have been subordinate to its relations with the Soviet Union and the United States.

East European nations were the first countries to establish diplomatic relations with China in 1949, following the Soviet Union's lead. In the early 1950s, through the Sino-Soviet alliance, China became an observer in the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), and Chinese relations with Eastern Europe included trade and receipt of limited amounts of economic and technical aid. The Sino-Soviet dispute was manifested in China's relations with certain East European countries, especially China's support for Albania's break with the Soviet Union in the late 1950s. After the Sino-Soviet split in the 1960s, the only East European nations maintaining significant ties with China until the late 1970s were Albania, Romania, and Yugoslavia. By the late 1980s, however, as Beijing's relations with Moscow improved and relations with governments and parties on the basis of "mutual respect and peaceful coexistence" were renewed, China's ties with the other nations of Eastern Europe also had improved noticeably, to include communist party ties.

China's ties with Western Europe were minimal for the first two decades of the People's Republic. Several West European nations, mostly in Scandinavia, established diplomatic relations with China in the early 1950s, and Britain and the Netherlands established ties with China at the charge d'affaires level in 1954. In the late 1950s, Britain became the first Western nation to relax the trade embargo against China imposed during the Korean War. The establishment of diplomatic relations between China and France in 1964 also provided an opening for trade and other limited Chinese contacts with Western Europe until the 1970s.

China's relations with Western Europe grew rapidly in the 1970s, as more nations recognized China and diplomatic relations were established with the European Economic Community in 1975. In the second half of the 1970s, China's emphasis on an international united front against Soviet hegemony led to increased Chinese support for West European unity and for the role of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Ties with Western Europe also were featured prominently in Beijing's independent foreign policy of the 1980s. Furthermore, China's opening up to foreign trade, investment, and technology beginning in the late 1970s greatly improved Sino-European ties. One of the few major problems in China's relations with Western Europe in the post-Mao era was the downgrading of diplomatic ties with the Netherlands from 1981 to 1984 over the latter's sale of submarines to Taiwan.

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