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Ambassador Zhang Ming Gave a Briefing on China-Germany-EU Summit to German Media

On September 11, 2020, Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, gave a briefing on the upcoming China-Germany-EU Summit to German media, including Handelsblatt, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Die Zeit, Deutsche Presse Agentur (DPA). The following is the transcript:

Zhang Ming: Good morning. It is a great pleasure to give you a short briefing and take your questions. This year marks the 45th anniversary of China-EU diplomatic ties. It is described by many as a milestone year in China-EU relations. Despite the COVID-19, which is still raging globally, communication between China and the EU does not stop. President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and other Chinese leaders have maintained close contact with their European counterparts through phone call and correspondence. The 22nd China-EU Summit was held in June. In July, Vice Premier Han Zheng had a video conversation with EVP Frans Timmermans on climate change and green cooperation. In the same month, Vice Premier Liu He and EVP Valdis Dombrovskis co-chaired the eighth China-EU High-level Economic and Trade Dialogue. Yesterday, China and the EU held their first high-level digital cooperation dialogue. The frequency and intensity of these high-level exchanges speak to the strong commitment of China and the EU to promoting the comprehensive strategic partnership.

Next Monday, leaders of China, Germany and the EU will hold a video conference. President Xi Jinping will meet with President Charles Michel, President Ursula von der Leyen and Chancellor Angela Merkel, discussing China-EU relations and issues of common interest. This type of meeting is the first of its kind in history. We hope that the meeting will help increase political trust, enhance practical cooperation, send a positive signal of China and the EU jointly upholding multilateralism and free trade and promoting economic recovery. We hope that the meeting will give a boost to confidence in world peace and development in the post-COVID-19 era.

Germany makes China a priority in its presidency program. I have noticed that German media have a lot more coverage on China. I guess you all have a long question list for me. Without further ado, I’m happy to open the floor now.

China and the EU are advancing the BIT talks and commit to concluding the agreement by the end of this year.

Süddeutsche Zeitung:I have one particular question on the bilateral investment agreement that is being negotiated. One key issue is China’s state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The EU demands a withdrawal of preferential treatments for the SOEs. But at the same time, the Chinese government has approved a three-year plan to beef up the SOEs in July. Is China really interested in getting a deal with the EU given that what it did contradicts the EU demand?

Zhang Ming: The China-EU bilateral investment agreement (BIT) negotiation is one of the most important item on their economic and trade agenda. The negotiation has been going on for years and has accelerated in the recent years. The COVID-19 has wreaked havoc on the global economy. If China and the EU could finish the negotiation by the end of this year, it will be of special significance. It will send a positive message of China and the EU working together during the trying times, and give a strong boost to the business confidence on both sides. It will also contribute to the post-COVID-19 global economy recovery and to the concerted efforts to safeguard an open trade and investment environment.

I know all of you are watching the negotiation with great interest. So I would like to give you a short briefing. Since the start of this year, we have had six rounds of formal talks. Significant progress has been made on issues related to the level playing field. Such progress has been confirmed during the eighth China-EU High-level Economy and Trade Dialogue. Intensive consultations are going on regarding issues related to sustainable development and the market access negative list. We are narrowing differences on those fronts and trying to find a potential landing zone. Later this month, there will be another round of formal talks. We hope to make more progress, so as to reach the objective of finishing the negotiation on time.

The progress we have made is a result of intensive communication and meeting each other halfway. We hope that both sides will carry forward such a spirit in the future work. Last Wednesday, I attended an event with former President of the European Commission Mr. Romano Prodi whose words were useful. He said both China and the EU have a strong interest to work together and that requires compromise from both sides. Compromise is the art of negotiation and diplomacy. Both sides need to continue their communication and cooperation, while meeting each other halfway.

Our ambition should not stop with a comprehensive, balanced and high-level investment agreement. We need to take a longer view by launching the joint feasibility study of an FTA as soon as possible and kick-starting the China-EU FTA process at an early date.

You mentioned the issue of state-owned enterprises. In fact, SOEs could be found in countries around the world, such as Germany and France. After decades of in-depth reform, China’s SOEs have already become independent market players which take responsibilities for their operations, profits and losses, bear risks on their own, exercise self-discipline and pursue development in their own right. The WTO follows the principle of ownership neutrality, so SOEs should not be discriminated against simply because of their ownership structure.

DPA: I would like to come back to the investment agreement. Can you tell us what concessions China has made since last year’s China-EU Summit? Can you also tell us what priority actions, concessions and compromises that the European Union has to make in order to conclude the BIT negotiation?

Zhang Ming: As you pointed out, during last year's China-EU summit, leaders from both sides agreed to finish the BIT negotiation by the end of this year. Significant progress has been made in the past year as the two sides have earnestly implemented the agreement reached at the leadership level. Apart from that, we also made concrete achievements by concluding the negotiation of a geographical indications agreement and signing two agreements on civil aviation safety. When it comes to the concessions made by both sides, since the BIT negotiation is still going on, you would not expect me to let them out. All parties will eventually see the final results when the negotiation is finished.

For China and the EU, cooperation and partnership hold the key to future success.

FAZ:I know from my conversations with EU officials that China is uneasy about the description of mutual relations used by the EU since spring of 2019, speaking about “systemic rivals”. Could you please explain to us why you feel uneasy about this description?

Zhang Ming: China and the EU established diplomatic ties 45 years ago. The current state of play of our relations is simply unthinkable for people who made the decision to establish our diplomatic relations. We have forged the comprehensive strategic partnership, which speaks to the perception we have on each other and also the strategic and global significance of this relationship. China-EU partnership has remained strong. Such strength is reflected in our cooperation across the board and at the international level.

The last year’s document, as you referred to, described China with three titles: partners, competitors and systemic rivals. China and the EU share the view that we are partners. In terms of competitors, I agree. For any partners, there is competition. Yet this is healthy competition, and I would prefer to call it “coopetition”. When it comes to systemic rivals, it is not in line with facts. The fact is that we have a lot of consensus on issues such as upholding multilateralism and opposing protectionism, safeguarding the UN-centered international system and the WTO-centered multilateral trading system. We also have a wide range of shared interests. We are each other’s top trading partners. Our two-way investment has been growing rapidly. Such cooperation is to the benefits of peoples from both sides and the global economy. Furthermore, we have engaged in good cooperation on hotspot issues, like the Iran nuclear issue, which is crucial for regional peace and stability.

China and the EU do not have a conflict of geostrategic interests. It is only natural for partners to have differences and frictions, but that does not mean they should perceive each other as rivals. If so, there would be no peace in the world and anyone could be the other’s rival. We hope that the EU will carefully reconsider characterizing China as a systemic rival. For China’s part, no matter what description the EU side is going to use, we will stick to the comprehensive strategic partnership. We believe that only with cooperative partnership can we hold the key to future success. Confrontation and rivalry will not make the world a better place to live in, and will not help address challenges.

FAZ: How do you view the current EU leadership? They seem to be talking much tougher about China on issues that you just mentioned than their predecessors. For instance, we are hearing from them, subsequent to the video conference on 22 June, that the Chinese side seems to enjoy the open and frank dialogue. Is that really true?

Zhang Ming: The new leadership was inaugurated late last year. My impression is that like the previous leadership, the current leaders attach importance to China as well. There is a consistency here. The past ten months have witnessed highly frequent high-level contacts between the two sides. There is a stronger commitment shared by both sides to furthering cooperation. Since the global environment is evolving, we have a growing range of shared interests and common responsibilities to keep the international community in good shape. We never shy away from the differences and misunderstandings in our interactions. Even when it comes to issues which are entirely China's internal affairs, the Chinese leadership would state China's policy and set out the facts in good faith and with frankness, because we see the EU as our partner. I believe such explanations will help the EU leadership better understand China's development strategy and policy direction.

China does not have an imperialism DNA.

FAZ: HRVP Borrell wrote a long article in a Spanish magazine. Let me just quote one sentence, “It is the goal of China to transform the international order into a selective multilateral system with Chinese characteristics, in which economic and social rights would precede political and civil rights”. What’s your response to it?

Zhang Ming: I have read the article by High Representative Mr. Borrell. I agree with part of his views but disagree with some others. He described China as trying to build a new empire. China indeed has a 5000-year civilization. China does not have an imperialism DNA, even some people call the ancient China an empire. China has never engaged in any behavior like conquest, colonization and looting, which are typical of imperialism. In his article, Mr. Borrell mentioned the great navigator Zheng He who led the fleets to the Indian Ocean and East Africa 600 years ago. That’s a good example to show China commits to peace.

During the Opium War, with the imperialist and colonial invasion, China fell into a semi-feudal, semi-colonial society. Since then, there has been a long-cherished dream of the Chinese people to restore the sovereignty, dignity and prosperity of the Chinese nation. We call that the dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. For generations, Chinese people with vision have been putting in a great deal of efforts and working hard to turn that dream into reality. However, we do not have a single intention of conquering, looting or colonizing others. Our dream is ambitious, but also quite simple. That is to deliver a decent and happy life to all the 1.4 billion Chinese people. To make that happen, we are concentrating on development. That’s why we need enduring global peace and an open environment for international cooperation. That’s also why we have been sticking to the policy of reform and opening-up and the independent foreign policy of peace. We have put forward a vision of building a community of shared future for mankind for the sake of common prosperity and global peace. If such a vision is lumped together with building a new empire, it would be a misjudgment and distortion of China’s development intention.

China upholds, benefits from, supports and contributes to the current international system. China has no intention or capability to revolutionize the current system or create a system on its own. Of course, there is a need to keep the international order abreast with the times through reform. This process calls for equal-footed consultation among all members of international community, be it big members or small ones.

China has a 1.4-billion population. It is a daunting task to provide adequate food, warm clothes, housing services, medical care, elderly care and education to all 1.4 billion people. Doing this job well is in itself a big contribution to the international community and the progress of all mankind. We hope to get understanding and support from the EU partners in this endeavor.

On cyber security, we hope that the EU stands by multilateralism and international cooperation.

Handelsblatt: China recently put forward a Global Initiative on Data Security and raised its concerns on this issue. Could you please explain a bit on that?

Zhang Ming: Cyberspace is a very important element for the development of all countries and cyber security is an issue of common concern. To enhance cyber security, we should not rely on a go-it-alone approach, still less on groundless attacks, discrediting, coercion or bullying. The only effective way is through global communication and cooperation.

On September 8, China put forward a Global Initiative on Data Security, putting equal emphasis on development and security. In this initiative, we put forward eight key points for enhancing data security. We need to take a balanced approach to technological progress, economic development and protection of national security and public interests. We need to handle the issue of data security in a comprehensive, objective and facts-based manner, reject the abuse of information technology to engage in massive surveillance and unauthorized information collection in other countries. Relevant companies should not install backdoors in their products and services or illegally obtain users' data, control or manipulate users' systems and devices.

This is a concrete and sincere step taken by China to help enhance cyber security globally. The initiative could serve as a basis for international cooperation to solve the data security problem. We welcome the participation of other members of the international community including the EU. Various parties could affirm the relevant commitments as described in this initiative through bilateral or regional agreement.

Some countries are resorting to uncivilized actions in dealing with cyber security. Such actions are obviously against the spirits of multilateralism, market economy and free trade. It will only bring harm to the development of the internet and world economy. The EU has always been upholding multilateralism and the fundamental principles of market economy. We hope that when it comes to the issue of cyber security, the EU will continue to stand by cooperation and multilateralism.

Groundless accusation and discrediting of China will do little service to defending European interests and values.

Die Zeit: You mentioned at the beginning that the media coverage on China is large. Do you find the articles of European media balanced or is there any improvement that needs to be made?

Zhang Ming: I am not in the position to judge media coverage. What I should do is to have frank dialogue with you.

Süddeutsche Zeitung: For the investment agreement between EU and China, you need to win the majority in the European Parliament. At the moment, I don’t see the likelihood that the majority of the parliament is going to vote for the agreement if it is not strong on sustainability. There is a sense that distrust and criticism on China regarding human rights, Xinjiang and Hong Kong are on the rise. What are you going to do?

Zhang Ming: The European Parliament is an important institution with which China has frequent communication. I have been invited by MEPs to many frank and detailed dialogues. The investment agreement negotiation is now primarily between the executive bodies of the two sides. When it is concluded, the agreement must go through internal approval procedures of both sides. We both have to be responsible to our citizens. The agreement must be mutually beneficial. The executive bodies have the duty to explain to the public and the parliament. The Chinese side will also explain to the European Parliament and European citizens to let them know the win-win nature of the agreement in order to gain more support.

I have been working here in Brussels for almost three years, and I have found a confusing tendency. Some differences between China and the EU are about China’s internal affairs. It goes beyond my comprehension, because non-interference in other’s internal affairs is the fundamental principle governing international relations. I have noticed that the European parliament has some comments on the relevant issues. We cannot accept any attempt to meddle in China’s internal affairs. But considering that China and EU are comprehensive strategic partners, we, as diplomats posted in the EU, try to be as frank as possible to make China’s policy and position clear to the EU side. There is a structured human rights dialogue between China and EU which is functioning well. On other issues such as Xinjiang and Hong Kong, China has already made its position clear through bilateral channels or media outlets.

I have noticed that there have been a great number of China related issues coming up in the public opinion. It usually takes three steps to fabricate such issues. Step one, a certain expert or institution from the western countries introduces the so-called reports full of disinformation on China. Step two, the media will show great enthusiasm on such reports and make wide coverage without investigation or substantive evidence. Step three, some western governments, also without any investigation or concrete evidence, would take over such media hype-ups. In this way, disinformation is turned into a so-called issue between China and EU. They take China’s anti-terrorism policy for establishing the concentration camps, and employment policy for the so-called forced labor. Obviously, it is extremely unfair and it is a great disrespect for the Chinese government and Chinese people. I do not know whether such politicians are trying to defend their national interest and values or playing geopolitical cards. I believe that governments, academic institutions and media should be impartial and fair. Conclusions should only be made on the basis of facts and concrete evidence, not on disinformation or lies. Groundless accusations and distortion of China’s strategy and policy would do little service to defend European interests and values. In short, China and the EU should be partners rather than rivals. We should treat each other in good faith and enhance mutual understanding and trust through dialogue and communication. We need to manage and resolve our differences and frictions in a constructive manner.

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