The Common Market is showing increasing interest in developing economic links with Communist China while at the same time turning its back on any meaningful ties with the Communist nations of Eastern Europe.
In particular, the European Economic Community is shunning any meaningful contractural links with Comecon, the Soviet-led economic organization of the Eastern European nations.
Returning Oct. 6 from a 10-day visit to Peking, which included talks with Communist Party Chairman Hua Kuo-Feng, Common Market Vice President Wilhelm Haferkamp reported on the "enormous" potential of the People's Republic for Western Europe's export drive and enormous energy requirements. But just three days after the return of the EEC's high-level delegation, which comprised some of Europe's most influential bankers and industrialists, news emerged here of the postponement apparently at Comecon's behest of a meeting originally scheduled for this week between Haferkamp, the EEC's top trade negotiator, and Nicolai Fedaev, the Secretary General of Comecon.
The twin developments could not have underscored more dramatically the sharp contrast between the common market's love affair with China and its more hesitant dealings with its neighbors in Eastern Europe.
Behind this EEC ambivalence, political strategy appears to speak as loudly as economic ambitions. Western Europeans are intuitively ready to embrace a China which, besides providing an 800 million strong consumer market and a plethora of much needed raw materials, has accorded consistent ideological support for Common Market integration as a means of limiting what Peking sees as the Westward pretensions of Soviet expansionism. Peking's espousal of the European cause took material form in April this year when an EEC/China trade accord was signed here and was followed in rapid time by a series of economic missions to Western European capitals.
Similar strategic considerations have appeared to militate against a tightening of the EEC's links with the Comecon organization. The EEC, which has been traditionally attacked and never formally recognized by the Communist countries of Eastern Europe, is wary of concluding an economic accord with Camecon which, it is feared here, might increase the USSR's hegemony over its Eastern European neighbors.
In addition, conclusion of a substantive EEC trade ilnk with Camecon, the unswerving aim of Eastern European negotiators. In talks held earlier this year in Moscow and Brussels, could bolster the East bloc's collective economic muscle in bargaining with other market economy countries, notably the United States and Japan, warn policy analysts here. They label such a development a "dangerour precedent."
Negotiators at the Common Market, which has full powers to bargain on trade on behalf of the EEC's nine member countries, do not want to see Comecon's economic authority upgraded to a similar level.
On the other hand, outright opposition to an accord with Camecon, with whose member countries the Common Market had $30 billion in two-way trade in 1977, is unthinkable to EEC policy makers here. The absence of contractual links between the Eastern and Western halves of Europe is a continuing anomaly in the climate of post-Helsinki detente. "The state of our relations is not in line with the development of detente in Europe over these past three years." Haferkamp told Fedaev in the latest round of fruitless top-level talks in Moscow in May.
But these diplomatic sentiments hide the Common Market's very real determination not to be railroaded into a full-blown trade accord with Comecon. Instead the EEC, which had further talks with Comecon officials here in July, is seeking a formal arrangement which, while making a ritual curtsy to the ideal of detente and normalization, must not provide external recognition of Comecon's central power to negotiate trade accords on behalf of its individual member countries.
The ideal solution for the EEC would appear to be to negotiate economic accords with individual East European countries, thus circumnavigating the danger of bolstering Comecon's power.
But this is easier said than done. True, Rumania has, for example, concluded its own arrangement with the Common Market on textiles, and several Comecon countries have negotiated with EEC on the internationally sensitive question of trade in steel products. But to attempt to go beyond this piecemeal approach with individual East European countries "would be suicide," warn policy makers here.