A Long-term Perspective Contributes to China-Europe Relations

Deng Li
On November 4, 2022, President Xi Jinping held a meeting at the Great Hall of the People with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz who was on an official visit to China. President Xi noted that China-Europe relations bear on global stability and prosperity in Eurasia and should be maintained and developed with efforts from both sides. China always regards Europe as a comprehensive strategic partner. It supports the strategic autonomy of the European Union and wishes Europe stability and prosperity. The more complex and difficult the situation becomes, the more important it is for China and Europe to uphold mutual respect, mutual benefit, dialogue and cooperation. On November 15, in a meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Bali, President Xi reiterated that as two major forces in a multi-polar world, China and Europe should uphold the spirit of independence, openness and cooperation and inject stability and positive energy into the world. China and Europe have formed a strong relationship of economic interdependency. The two sides should expand two-way trade and investment, jointly uphold true multilateralism and tackle global challenges.  
These important remarks on China-Europe relations by President Xi after the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) reflect a high degree of stability and consistency in China’s policy toward Europe. They are a clear indication that China maintains sincerity and good-will in developing its relations with Europe, commits to the characterization of the relationship as a comprehensive strategic partnership and stays determined to build a China-Europe relationship that has stronger global influence.
The world today has entered a new phase of turbulence and transformation. The COVID-19 pandemic has not yet ended, while geopolitical conflicts, energy crisis, food crisis, and inflation come up one after another. Economic globalization faces headwinds and countercurrents. The world economy is under increasing downward pressure. A few countries follow unilateralism and are obsessed with group politics and small circles. The world is at serious risks of being pushed again to the brink of division and confrontation. Clouded by these difficulties and challenges in the global situation, some feel pessimistic about the future of China-Europe relations; a handful even deliberately disparage, disrupt and sabotage this relationship. This has aroused grave concern among the long-standing supporters of China-Europe friendship and cooperation from different sectors. Where is this relationship heading? Can the two sides rise above challenges to usher in a brighter future? These are questions the two sides must answer. In my view, we should contextualize this relationship in a historic, dialectical and dynamic perspective, and put it in the bigger picture.  
The international community now faces multiple problems and challenges, and China-Europe relations are experiencing difficulties. This is not the first time we run up against such a scenario. Over the past 47 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the EU, our two sides have managed to transcend difficulties and keep increasing exchanges and cooperation. The annual trade soared from less than three billion US dollars to over 800 billion, a vivid proof that our common interests far outweigh our differences. Europe is currently tackling pressing challenges in security, economy, and the people’s livelihood, but these are not issues caused by China, and wrecking China-Europe relations is no way to address them. Instead, smooth China-Europe cooperation will be a boost to solving the predicament. From fighting the pandemic to combating climate change, from stabilizing the global economic and financial situation to upholding international peace and security, there are always common interests between China and Europe. They may be blurred by temporary noises, but will not disappear.  
China and Europe are different in ideology, history, culture, and political system. The New China has been a socialist country led by the CPC since its founding in 1949. This has not changed and will not change. What is important is to recognize differences and respect each other. This is fundamental to promoting democracy in international relations. A foreign ambassador to China once said to me that the concept of the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics has two layers of meanings: It is a path that meets China’s national conditions, and it is only suitable for China. If you flip through history books, you won’t find many major countries that have refrained from exporting their systems as China did. And, when you come to think of it, who in all these years have been desperately exporting their ideology to China? It does not make sense for the EU to define China as a “systemic rival”. It is fine to compare different systems, but the focus should be on which one is more suitable for a country, which better promotes stability, prosperity and people’s well-being, and which is a stronger buttress for world peace. As in athletics, contestants should aim to go faster, higher and farther. If they see themselves as boxers and only want a knockout, we will be thrown back into the era of the law of the jungle.
Since the start of reform and opening-up, China has taken active steps to integrate into the world economic system, kept improving the system of socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics, and made achievements that have drawn worldwide attention. Europe has been actively involved in this process, both contributing to and benefiting from China’s development. A large number of European businesses have seen stunning performance in the Chinese market. It’s a win-win story. As the largest developing country and the largest union of developed countries, China and the EU have formed a strong relationship of economic interdependency. Take Germany as an example. Its three leading car makers — BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen — realized 40 percent of their 2021 global sales in China. Mercedes-Benz saw a sales jump of nearly 40 percent in China in the third quarter of 2022, and two out of every five cars it manufactured were bought by Chinese consumers. Over 600 companies from 36 European countries were present at the fifth China International Import Expo held in early November — more than one-fifth of the total number of participating companies. Many European businesses are increasing their investment in China, evidence of the appeal and potential of the mutually beneficial business ties between China and Europe. As Chancellor Scholz observed, supporting economic globalization and opposing decoupling serve the fundamental interests of European businesses and people.  
China has reiterated on many occasions that it never seeks expansion or hegemony. It is a determined defender, builder and contributor of the existing international order, and it resolutely opposes all forms of unilateralism or attempts to challenge and undermine the universally recognized international rules in pursuit of one’s own selfish interests. Having been through two world wars and the Cold War, Europe knows first hand the pains inflicted by expansion and wars. Multilateralism is our common language. Both China and Europe stand for upholding the international system with the United Nations at its core, the international order underpinned by international law and the basic norms governing international relations centered on the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. The world today is once again at a crossroads of history. As two major forces, huge markets and important civilizations holding the two ends of the Eurasian continent, China and the EU should work together to oppose bloc confrontation, keep the international order stable and follow the historical trend of peace, development and win-win cooperation, which conforms to the shared interests of both sides and the international community. China hopes the EU will continue to be an important pole in a multi-polar world, act with strategic autonomy and better play an independent and constructive role on the international stage.
The more chaotic and noisier it is, the more important it is to think clearly, keep to the right direction and act with responsibility. It is highly necessary for China and Europe, standing where we are today, to build synergy, unlock potential, strengthen momentum and resist countervailing forces.
We have a number of communication channels and exchange mechanisms — over 60 dialogue mechanisms between Chinese and EU institutions not least. Head-of-state diplomacy should lead the way. Interactions under existing mechanisms should be a guarantee for timely, smooth and effective communication and coordination so that we could constantly enhance trust and dispel misgivings, build strategic consensus and reduce misunderstandings and misjudgments. Exchanges and cooperation in education, culture, tourism, language, youth and sports, should be enhanced. People-to-people exchanges should be encouraged to lay a stronger foundation of public support for our friendship. Joint efforts should be made to oppose the practices of sticking labels, stigmatizing others and politicizing matters so as to protect our exchanges and interactions from disruptions.
We should continue to tap into our complementary strengths, contribute to each other’s success and pursue common development. We should strengthen coordination of macroeconomic policies and take economic globalization deeper through our openness and cooperation. We should continue to make the pie of our common interests bigger, increase cooperation in traditional areas such as economy, trade and investment, and at the same time actively explore emerging areas such as finance, energy, and innovation in science and technology. Green economy and digital economy represent the future; they are also high on our respective development agendas. We should further leverage the two high-level dialogue mechanisms on environment and climate and on digital cooperation to exploit the potential in new energy, information and communications, artificial intelligence and electric vehicles, and create new “growth poles” for our cooperation. As leading contributors in international development assistance, China and the EU may carry out third party cooperation more actively to jointly help developing countries accelerate development and achieve the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals at an early date.
We should stick together to cope with the ever more serious global challenges, unequivocally resist the outdated mindset of bloc confrontation and oppose a new cold war. We should adhere to the right course of economic globalization, and oppose politicizing and weaponizing economic, trade and scientific and technological exchanges. We need to draw on our economic complementarity and interdependency to safeguard the security and stability of our supply chains. It is important to build stability and mutual trust in supply chains. We should take the world economy in a direction that is more open, inclusive, balanced and beneficial for all, and inject the much-needed confidence and impetus into the world economy. We need to promote the common values of humanity — peace, development, equity, justice, democracy and freedom, take the lead in transcending estrangement and the sense of superiority through exchanges and mutual learning between civilizations, and set a fine example of different countries pursuing prosperity together and coexisting in harmony.  
The history of our relations offers a lot of wisdom. We should adhere to the principles of mutual respect, seeking common ground while shelving differences, dialogue and cooperation, and mutual benefit, and offset uncertainties in the international situation with the stability of China-Europe relations. We should pursue the greatest convergence of interests in a constructive manner, promote practical cooperation with an open mind, and respect each other’s major, core interests. We should stay committed to dialogue and coordination, avoid distractions such as pan-politicization and pan-ideologization, and refrain from “megaphone diplomacy” so as to create conditions for the long-term and stable development of China-Europe relations.

Deng Li is Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs.