A Win-win Relationship Between China and Europe Is a Force of Stability and Positive Energy for the World

By Zhu Jing

The past spring can be described as a “warm spring” or a shining moment in China-Europe relations. In March, President Xi Jinping paid state visits to Italy, Monaco and France, kicking off his first overseas trip this year. Intended to advance the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership and open up new space for Belt and Road cooperation across the Eurasian continent, the visit underscored the commitment and resolve of China and Europe to enhance global governance and uphold multilateralism as two forces for global peace, global development and the international order. It has not only deepened trust and cooperation between the two sides and injected fresh impetus into their partnership, but also provided a sense of stability, certainty and predictability to the fluid international landscape.

In April, Premier Li Keqiang attended the 21st China-EU Summit in Belgium, and traveled to Croatia for a visit and the eighth China-CEEC Summit. The China-EU Summit produced a Joint Statement that was substantive, positive and balanced, a result of equal-footed consultation and win-win cooperation. It showcased the shared commitment of the two sides to upholding multilateralism and meeting global challenges and pointed the way forward for cooperation in trade, investment, connectivity, research, innovation, people-to-people exchange, global governance and other areas, with a clear timetable and roadmap. 

Europe was also the destination of NPC Chairman Li Zhanshu and Vice President Wang Qishan for their first overseas visits this year. State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi held a new round of China-EU High-level Strategic Dialogue with EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, and had a collective meeting with foreign ministers of EU member states for the first time. Several EU leaders also paid visits to China. Such intense high-level interactions, resulting in some calling the spring a “season of Europe” in Chinese diplomacy, are a vivid illustration of the across-the-board nature and strong momentum of the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership. They also provide strategic guidance to and help chart the course for relations between China and Europe going forward.

Right now, mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Europe is making progress on all fronts:

First, China and Europe are good partners who honor their words and commit to results-oriented cooperation. As is said in China, “implementation holds the key to a successful plan”. China and Europe are energetically implementing the outcomes of the leaders’ visits. For example, preparations for celebrating 2020 as the Year of Culture and Tourism in China and Italy are making good progress; the first China-Italy Finance Dialogue was held in Milan on 10 July. Negotiations between China and France on a spent fuel reprocessing plant made important headway; a legal and judicial dialogue mechanism between the two countries was officially launched. The Civil Aviation Safety Agreement(BASA) and the Agreement on Certain Aspects of Air Services were signed by China and the EU; negotiations on the China-EU Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) and Geographical Indications Agreement have been sped up so that they can be concluded within the agreed timeframe. These steps, taken to translate the leaders’ consensus into actions on the ground, demonstrate the commitment on both sides to further open up and advance practical cooperation as well as their resolve and confidence to take forward China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership. To quote President Juncker’s words on the signing of the BASA, “In an increasingly unsettled world, Europe’s partnership with China is more important than ever. We should continue on this path of cooperation.”

Second, China and Europe are good partners who prioritize development and pursue win-win cooperation. The shining moment in relations earlier this year would not have been possible without decades of deep and extensive cooperation between the two sides. In the 40 years since China started reform and opening-up, trade with the EU witnessed a 250-fold increase. Last year, it hit a record number of US$682.16 billion, making the EU China’s largest trading partner for the 15th consecutive year while China EU’s second largest trading partner for many years running. Two-way visits neared eight million last year and over 600 flights travel between China and Europe every week. Sixteen years since the establishment of the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership, cooperation in various areas has delivered tangible benefits to people on both sides.

High-quality Belt and Road cooperation is becoming a new highlight in the relationship. The Belt and Road Initiative responds to common aspirations for bigger markets and greater connectivity in a globalized world, and complements the EU’s efforts to advance integrated development within the Union and to uphold multilateralism and free trade. It reflects the converging interest of China and Europe, and has received broad support from Europe and beyond. In April, more than a dozen leaders or high-level representatives from Europe came to China for the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, heralding a new chapter of high-quality Belt and Road cooperation between China and Europe. To serve both sides’ needs for cooperation, a connectivity platform and a Joint Investment Fund have been established, and a number of projects have been launched. The setting up of a Belt and Road Policy Communication Committee in the European Parliament and institutions such as the Federal Association of the German Silk Road Initiative indicate the level of interest and confidence in high-quality Belt and Road cooperation across Europe. 

Third, China and Europe are good partners who fulfill their responsibilities and uphold multilateralism and free trade. Unilateralism and protectionism have dealt a severe blow to the international order and the multilateral trading system. By abusing tariffs and practicing long-arm jurisdiction, certain countries have politicized trade and investment issues and tried to justify their actions by citing security as an umbrella excuse. Such moves have caused disruptions to the global industrial and supply chains, and pose a direct threat to growth prospect across the world, including that of China and Europe. Against this backdrop, the choice and proposition of China and the EU as two major players in the international community will have a significant impact on the evolution, transformation and adjustment of the international order. And relations between China and Europe mean much more than bilateral cooperation as they acquire strategic, global significance. 

Facing the choice between unilateralism and multilateralism, between protectionism and free trade, China and the EU have made their positions very clear. Both sides support multilateralism, support basic norms governing international relations based on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, support the building of an open global economy, support the rules-based multilateral trading system, and oppose unilateralism and trade protectionism. This is the strategic choice made by China and the EU in a fast-changing international environment; this is how the two sides fulfill their responsibilities to humanity as a whole.

Fourth, China and Europe are good partners who respect each other and work together for openness and inclusiveness. Given their differences in geographical location, history, culture, social system and development path, it is natural for China and Europe to have different views and even disagreements over some issues. As cooperation grows in scale, problems and even frictions are hardly avoidable. However, China and Europe do not have any fundamental conflict of interest. Should differences arise, what is important is how we handle and manage them. The key lies in the two sides viewing each other’s development with an open mind and properly managing differences through cooperation and consultation until they are finally resolved. The EU believes in “unity in diversity”, which essentially resonates with the Chinese vision of “harmony without uniformity”. The development of China-EU diplomatic relations over the past 44 years proves that as long as the two sides act with mutual respect and in the same spirit, we can always build consensus, narrow differences and achieve win-win results. To step up dialogue and cooperation between China and Europe serves the fundamental and long-term interests of both sides and contributes to world peace, stability and prosperity.

Faced with rising instabilities and uncertainties in the international situation, China and Europe need to further enhance communication and cooperation from a strategic and global perspective and with a sensible approach. The two sides need to work together to address long-running issues and new challenges confronting the human society and build a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind to bring stability and positive energy to an increasingly uncertain world.

First, China and Europe should contribute to a world of lasting peace. Over the years, the EU has shown to the world with its vision and practices that people of different countries are capable of overcoming historical grievances and cultural estrangement to achieve win-win progress. As two major forces for promoting world peace and common development, China and Europe should work shoulder to shoulder in pursuit of international relations featuring mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation. China always approaches its relations with Europe from a strategic and long-term perspective and supports European integration, as it is in line with the trend of world multipolarity, and a united, stable, open and prosperous Europe is also in the interests of China. We hope that the EU can also maintain the continuity of its China policy and work with the Chinese side to make strategic plans for the medium-to-long-term development of bilateral relations and take the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership to the next level.

Second, China and Europe should contribute to a world of universal security. The definition and implications of international security issues are ever expanding. Faced with risks such as terrorism, nuclear proliferation and major communicable diseases, China and Europe have intertwined interests and a common stake. The two sides should embrace the vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security, respect and accommodate each other’s legitimate security concerns, make coordinated efforts to uphold traditional and non-traditional security, and tackle security challenges through dialogue and consultation and mutually beneficial cooperation. China will continue to work with the EU to enhance dialogue and coordination at the bilateral, regional and global levels, jointly advocate multilateralism and follow the multilateral approach, uphold the international order and system centered on the UN, and address global challenges.

Third, China and Europe should contribute to a world of common prosperity. In response to unilateralism and protectionism, China and Europe need to work together, like passengers in the same boat, to advance trade and investment liberalization and facilitation, and make economic globalization more open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial to all. The two sides need to step up cooperation on global economic governance, strengthen coordination of macro-economic policies, and enhance communication on WTO reform through the China-EU joint working group and other channels. China and the EU should further their cooperation on connectivity by creating stronger synergy between the Belt and Road Initiative and the EU strategy of “Connecting Europe and Asia”. China and the EU should foster new drivers for promoting free trade, and do their level best to conclude the BIT negotiations next year and initiate the process of free trade cooperation at an early date. China-Europe cooperation in science, technology, innovation, economy and finance boasts huge potential. Deepening practical cooperation in these areas will bring more benefits to the two peoples and inject new dynamism to all-round, sustainable growth of the world economy.

Fourth, China and Europe should contribute to an open and inclusive world. China and Europe are both great civilizations with a time-honored history, and diversity should be a driver of progress for civilizations. China is ready to increase inter-civilization exchanges and dialogue with Europe to enhance harmony, inclusiveness and respect for differences, and pursue common development through mutual learning so that cultural interactions can serve as a bridge of friendship between our peoples. We hope to work with the European side to explore new areas, models and approaches to promote mutual learning between our civilizations and advance cooperation in social security, culture, health, sports and other fields. We also hope to further facilitate people-to-people interflows between China and Europe and achieve the goals of the second phase of the China-EU Mobility and Migration Dialogue roadmap as early as possible.

Fifth, China and Europe should contribute to a clean and beautiful world. Mankind only has one planet earth, yet its environment and ecosystem are under growing stress. Major problems such as climate change pose increasingly grave challenges to members of the international community including China and Europe. It is incumbent on both sides to jointly advance the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, strengthen global development partnerships, enhance cooperation in water resources, marine affairs, the environment, circular economy and other fields, and implement the China-EU Roadmap on Energy Cooperation. China is ready to work with Europe to tackle climate change and other emerging challenges, push forward the follow-up negotiations and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement, actively build and improve the global climate governance system and promote green, low-carbon and sustainable development, thus making our joint contribution to protecting planet earth, the only place we all call home.

Zhu Jing is Deputy Director-General of the Department of European Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.