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Ambassador Zhang Ming Gives an Exclusive Interview to CGTN

On 16 June 2020, Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, gave an interview to CGTN Europe correspondent Nawied Jabarkhyl. Ambassador Zhang answered questions about the high-level exchanges and cooperation between China and the EU. The following is the transcript:

Q: You recently ended the latest EU-China Strategic Dialogue, what were the key takeaways from the meeting?

A: Last week, Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi and EU High Representative Josep Borrell co-chaired the 10th China-EU High-level Strategic Dialogue. It was the first strategic dialogue between the two senior diplomats, since Mr. Borrell took office at the end of last year. Due to the pandemic, the dialogue was held via video link, but it did not dampen in the slightest the enthusiasm and willingness of the two sides to strengthen communication. The dialogue lasted for more than three hours.

The strategic dialogue is strategic in both letter and spirit. From a strategic perspective, the two sides took stock of the achievements made and experience gained in China-EU cooperation. As State Councilor Wang Yi pointed out, for China and the EU, cooperation outweighs competition, and convergences outweigh divergences. China and the EU are not systemic rivals, but comprehensive strategic partners in the long term. An important message conveyed by the two sides is that both China and the EU support multilateralism and commit to addressing global challenges through coordination and cooperation and promoting global peace and prosperity.

The strategic dialogue bears out the value of dialogue. Despite differences in social systems, China and the EU could well build trust through dialogue on an equal footing and deal with differences through constructive communication. State Councilor Wang Yi quoted an ancient Chinese philosopher by saying that “all living things should grow in harmony without hurting one another; and all the ways should move forward without interfering with one another”. He stressed that China and the EU need to treat each other as equals and with mutual respect, and seek common ground while reserving differences. He added that the two sides could appreciate each other, learn from each other and make progress together. Mr. Borrell said that the EU respects the development path chosen by the Chinese people, considers China’s role in the international arena important, and would seek dialogue and cooperation with China, not rivalry or confrontation.

Q: China-EU high level meeting is going to be held later this month. What’s your expectation of the meeting? What will be on the agenda?

A: The 22nd China-EU Summit will be held via video link next week. The summit, held against the backdrop of the pandemic, will be the first of its kind after the inauguration of the new EU leadership at the end of last year. I am confident that the summit will help increase political mutual trust, enhance practical cooperation, and strengthen coordination and collaboration in regional and international affairs between China and the EU, shedding new light on the global significance of China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership.

With regard to the agenda, the two sides will review the development of China-EU relations in the past year, notably the investment agreement negotiations and a new cooperation agenda for the next five years, and explore further cooperation in such areas as green development, digital economy and connectivity. Of course, the two sides will also exchange views on the international cooperation against COVID-19 and health cooperation between the two sides.

We have seen the rise of unilateralism and protectionism amid the pandemic. Many are worried about the fate of globalization. I believe the summit will once again send a clear message that China and the EU are firmly committed to upholding multilateralism, keeping the stability of industrial and supply chains, promoting WTO reform, improving global governance, and working together for the recovery of the world economy.

Q: There’s a lot of pressure on China in Western Europe in particular at the moment, from its handling of COVID-19 to Hong Kong, how do you understand the pressure and maintain dialogue?

A: There could be differences in any bilateral relations. It is quite normal that China and the EU have different concerns, since they are different in history, culture and level of development. My colleagues and I do not see it as pressure, but as a challenge that make the life of diplomats rewarding. In fact, China and the EU have a wide range of shared interests, views and areas of cooperation. Both sides believe that we should promote cooperation in areas where we converge and enhance mutual understanding and manage differences through dialogue in areas where we disagree. This is a valuable asset in our relations, a sign of mutual respect and trust, and an integral part of China-EU partnership.

COVID-19 has indeed brought some complexities. For example, some label China as a “systemic rival” and even trumpet the idea of “decoupling” with China. I also noticed that European leaders and senior officials, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and High Representative Josep Borrell, have repeatedly emphasized the importance of China-EU relations and expressed their commitment to keeping dialogue with China and promoting cooperation in a wide range of areas. I think this is the mainstream view in the EU and a shared wish of both sides.

Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs which brook no external interference. As partners, China and the EU have maintained communication and exchanges. On the national security legislation in Hong Kong, there are some concerns from the EU, and I have spoken to EU colleagues in the past few weeks to explain the situation. Even if the EU cannot take in China’s stance for the time being, we will strive to manage our differences through communication and safeguard our cooperation, common interests and the interests of the wider international community. This is the right thing to do.

Q: How do you see the concerns by some EU countries toward the use of Huawei in their 5G network? Do you think their concerns are justified?

A: 5G is a new technology closely linked to the future of mankind. It’s quite natural that there is a lot of interest in its security. No country with a sense of responsibility would afford to be “naïve” on this issue. 5G companies must comply with high security standards if they are to win customer trust and grow sustainably. No companies would afford to give little heed to security and ruin their reputation. Yet security is a technological issue that calls for facts- and science-based analysis and judgment, rather than geopolitically-driven bashing or fear-mongering, still less groundless discrediting to hamstring certain companies. Such acts are irresponsible, departure from science and justice.

We live in an era full of security challenges. Cybersecurity is a complex and thorny global challenge that can only be addressed through international cooperation, especially in the 5G era. Discrediting, pressuring, or setting limits on a certain country’s companies will not help solve the problem, and would only hurt all. In addressing the challenge of cybersecurity, China and the EU share a broad range of common interests and should maintain effective communication and strong cooperation.

Q: We’re seeing lots of pressure here in the UK for the government to turn its back on Huawei and on closer links to China - is this a concern you’re having to combat in Brussels too?

A: As a global actor, the EU has the tradition of adhering to multilateralism, free trade and market principles. The EU often says that these principles are in its DNA. I believe that the EU is able to stay the course, keep the independence of its policies and make decisions based on its own interests. I also believe that the EU will not allow its DNA to mutate and will not succumb to external pressure.

The pandemic has taught us a lot. One important lesson is that isolation and seclusion lead us nowhere, and that openness and cooperation offer a way out. No one could develop behind closed doors and overcome crises on his own. China will unswervingly advance opening up and roll out more measures to expand opening up of its own accord. We also hope that the EU side will stick to the right direction and provide an open, fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for China-EU cooperation in various fields, such as economy, trade, science and technology.

Q: What help has China given to EU countries around COVID-19? With European countries beginning to ease lockdown measures, is there more cooperation between China and EU coming in terms of healthcare, including supplies, vaccines development, etc?

A: In fighting the pandemic, China and the EU have reached out to each other in these trying times. Leaders of the two sides have maintained frequent communication via phone call, videoconferencing and exchange of correspondence, and conducted fruitful exchanges on provision of emergency supplies, keeping the safety of industrial chains, and strengthening macro-policy coordination. When gravely hit by the pandemic, China and the EU have offered each other urgently needed medical supplies. China has sent several medical teams to Europe to fight the virus on the front line. The two sides have set up an ad-hoc expert group. Chinese and European scientists and medical workers have held several online conferences to share experience. At present, we are resuming personnel exchanges in a steady and orderly manner, and opening “fast-track lanes” for essential visits to China in the fields of commerce, logistics, production and technological services, so as to facilitate resumption of work.

China and the EU take an active part in the global response to the pandemic. President Xi Jinping announced at the World Health Assembly that coronavirus vaccines developed by China will be a global public good. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang attended the Global Vaccine Summit and pledged to support, which was highly commended by the EU. The EU initiated the global pledging conference to advance vaccine development and production. I attended the conference on behalf of the Chinese government and made pledges. China and the EU are exploring trilateral cooperation with Africa on fighting the outbreak. Most importantly, China and the EU firmly support the WHO playing a key role in leading the global response to the pandemic. These are good efforts to build a global community of health for all, and to reflect the high-level performance of China-EU relations.

Q: China and the EU currently have a Comprehensive Agreement on Investmen. What are the efforts to push for an FTA? If so, how far off could that be?

A: Economic and trade cooperation is an important part of China-EU relations. Over the past decade, Europe has been China’s largest trading partner. China and the EU have always regarded the negotiation on the investment agreement as the top priority on their economic agenda. At last April’s summit, Chinese and EU leaders announced the objective of completing the negotiation by 2020. Since then, both sides have redoubled their efforts to translate the political commitment into actions.

The negotiation is going on intensively. Despite the pandemic, both sides keep up the negotiation through video conference once a month and a week each time. They are working hard and productively. The 29th round of negotiation, just concluded at the end of last May, made headway. In June and July, the two sides will hold another two rounds of negotiation.

Of course, negotiation is not an easy job. Just as it takes two to tango, it calls for the joint efforts of both sides to get things done. As the pandemic is taking a heavy toll on global economy, to complete the negotiation as scheduled is of even greater relevance. We hope that the EU side will work together with China in a pragmatic and flexible manner, with a view to concluding a high-level agreement at an early date, and injecting strong impetus into China-EU cooperation and the rules-based multilateral trading system. With regard to the FTA, China takes a positive, open and flexible attitude.

Q: Britain left the EU earlier this year - is that an opportunity as far as China is concerned? How do you see the relations between EU and China?

A: Chinese people value harmony. Regarding China’s policy toward the EU, we commit to the “three supports” , namely supporting the European integration process, supporting a united and strong EU, and supporting a bigger role of a stable and prosperous Europe in international affairs. Such commitment is consistent, be it before or after Brexit. In Brussels, I’m often asked about how I look upon Brexit. I often quote an old Chinese saying that “one prefers to persuade a couple to stay together than to divorce”. After all, getting separated is hurtful. Brexit is a matter concerning the UK and the EU, and China, as a third party, does not intervene. Brexit talks are coming to a critial stage. China sincerely hopes that the two sides can properly handle the relevant issues and reduce the resulting impact on the EU, the UK, China and the world economy. China will continue to promote parallel development of China-EU and China-UK relations.

China and the EU established diplomatic ties 45 years ago and have become comprehensive strategic partners. We are building four partnerships for peace, growth, reform and civilization. The bilateral trade is 300 times that of the early days of our diplomatic ties. Nearly 800 two-way visits are made every year. China-EU cooperation has expanded to many areas such as peace and security, environment, science and technology, culture, education and health. The two sides work together to tackle global challenges. The bilateral relations are showing unprecedented global and strategic significance. In face of profound changes unseen in a century, China and the EU have their respective ambitious development goals. It is a shared choice to promote robust growth, lasting peace, sustained innovation, clean environment and cultural diversity, which will unleash even greater vitality in their cooperation.

As the pandemic is still wreaking havoc, I believe that China and the EU will continue to show solidarity, avoid being swayed by external noices, contribute to the global fight against the pandemic, and further strengthen their relations.

Q: Yesterday the EU announced that it would impose tariffs on the glass fiber products made by Chinese manufacturers in Egypt on the grounds that relevant products had been subsidized by the Chinese government. The news was released by the EU just before the summit. How would you comment upon this? Will it have any impact on the summit?

A: The issue of subsidies is closely watched by many. China and the EU maintain close communication on this issue. China is concerned about the EU’s subsidies for agriculture while the EU often talk about China’s industrial subsidies. As far as China is concerned, our subsidies to some industries are completely in compliance with WTO rules.

Both China and Egypt are developing countries. China’s cooperation with other developing countries like Egypy is South-South cooperation that has provided significant impetus to the development of developing countries. We hope that the EU side will maintain communication with its partners, resolve differences through consultation. In particular, it is important to respect the cooperation among developing countries, and offer developing countries more space for development.

Q: Last week the EU criticized China for spreading disinformation about the COVID-19. How do you look upon this?

A: Since the outbreak, disinformation has indeed posed a serious challenge. China is the victim to this harmful phenomenon. We are working together with the international community to fight disinformation.

It is surprising and hard to understand that the EU criticizes China for spreading disinformation. I have noticed that the joint communication published last week simply puts the label on China and fails to provide concrete evidence to prove that China is spreading disinformation. Fighting disinformation requires good faith and should not become a political instrument, otherwise the global cooperation against the pandemic will be eroded.

To defeat the virus, we need cooperation and solidarity. I hope that the EU could work with China and the international community to deal with disinformation. Such efforts should not be selective. Otherwise, it will not be a real fight against disinformation and there may be ulterior motives at play.

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