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Ambassador Zhang Ming Attends the Briefing on China-EU Relations and Delivers a Keynote Speech at European Policy Center

On September 17, 2020, Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, attended the “Prospects and Challenges of China-EU Relations” session, part of the “Sixty-minute Briefing” series of activities organized by the European Policy Center (EPC), and delivered a keynote speech. Ambassador Zhang Ming gave an all-round introduction to the results of the China-Germany-EU leaders’ meeting and put forward suggestions on how to implement the leaders’ consensus and advance the China-EU relations. The briefing was hosted by Fabian Zuleeg, Chief Executive and Chief Economist at the EPC. The full text of Ambassador Zhang Ming’s speech is as follows:

Mr. Fabian Zuleeg, Chief Executive of the EPC

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good morning. It is a great pleasure to join this discussion on China-EU relations.

COVID-19 accelerates the changes in the international landscape and global order. Under the new circumstances, many are closely watching how the China-EU relationship is characterized and in which direction it is heading. Last Monday, leaders of China, the EU and Germany held a video conference. That gave another opportunity of strategic communication between Chinese and EU leaders after three months, lending new political impetus to the China-EU strategic cooperation.

I joined the conference via video link, and got the feel of its good atmosphere. President Xi Jinping said that it was a candid and productive summit. Chancellor Merkel and President von der Leyen described the summit as frank, open and constructive. President Michel said that the meeting represents another step forward in the EU-China relations. The summit, with major deliverables, sent a positive message of China and the EU strengthening cooperation and forging a comprehensive strategic partnership with greater global significance in the post-COVID-19 era.

First, the summit helped increase political trust. China and the EU have made it clear that they both stand for engagement and dialogue on the basis of mutual respect and equality, for openness and cooperation, and for multilateralism, and that they both stand against isolation, decoupling and unilateralism. As President Xi Jinping said, China and the EU need to keep firmly to mutual support and solidarity, and commit to peaceful coexistence, openness and cooperation, multilateralism, dialogue and consultation. The two sides agreed to keep the momentum of high-level exchanges, and stay in communication regarding a 27+1 leaders’ meeting.

Second, the summit helped deepen mutually beneficial cooperation. The two sides announced the signing of the China-EU Agreement on Geographical Indications (GI). Two hundred GI products have been included as the first batch. The agreement means not only better protection of such EU agri-food as Bavarian beer and parma ham in the Chinese markets, but also higher-quality trade between China and the EU. The two sides reaffirmed their commitment to speeding up the investment agreement negotiations and concluding the agreement by the end of this year, with a view to upgrading cooperation, contributing to the global economic recovery and jointly safeguarding an open environment for trade and investment. The two sides agreed to establish a High-level Environment and Climate Dialogue and a High-level Digital Cooperation Dialogue, and forge partnerships for green and digital cooperation, in order to add more dimensions to China-EU cooperation.

Third, the summit charted the way forward. The meeting set priorities for the development of China-EU relations. We need to jointly fight the pandemic, step up cooperation on medical supplies, vaccine and medicine research, support the WHO, and conduct trilateral cooperation with Africa. We need to jointly push for economic recovery, strengthen macroeconomic policy coordination, resume travel flows in an orderly fashion, facilitate flow of goods, and keep the industrial and supply chains stable between China and the EU and at the global level. We need to uphold fairness and justice, safeguard the international order and free trade, enhance communication and coordination on regional and global hotspot issues, and uphold multilateralism with concrete actions. The two sides agreed to continue to discuss the Strategic Agenda for Cooperation 2025, in order to set out a framework for China-EU cooperation for the next five years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the past decades, China-EU relations have gone through ups and downs. Yet cooperation has remained the mainstay. As the video summit suggested, the current circumstances do not alter the win-win nature of China-EU relations and their underlying trends. Of course, COVID-19 has brought complexities and new challenges to China-EU relations. What should be done to better deliver the commitments by our leaders, properly address the complexities and turn challenges into opportunities? Let me share a few observations.

First, we need to perceive each other correctly. China views the EU as a comprehensive strategic partner, and develops relations with the EU with the utmost goodwill and in good faith. We hope that the EU could look at China’s development in an objective, rational and open way, not view China-EU interactions through ideological or geopolitical lens, still less misinterpret China’s strategic intention.

There are no two identical leaves in the world. Given the breadth and depth of China-EU relations, it is inevitable for us to have different views or even divergences. We should not shy away from these differences. Yet we have to admit that as our culture, social system and stage of development vary greatly, some issues may not be resolved in the short term. What matters is to seek common ground while reserving differences, not to lose sight of the consensus just because of certain differences, and not to let differences in specific areas hamper cooperation on a broader scale. Otherwise, it would be like picking up a sesame seed only to lose a watermelon as an old Chinese saying goes.

Second, we need to keep to win-win and open cooperation. For China and the EU, cooperation is not an expediency, but a strategic choice aiming for mutual benefit. Take trade as an example. Despite the impact of COVID-19, China-EU trade in the first half of this year grew by 2.2% year on year, amounting to 275.6 billion euros. The share of China in the EU’s foreign trade rose to 15.6%. The report of the EU Chamber of Commerce shows that most EU companies in China continue to make profits, 30% of which have a profitability rate of 20%. Nearly 90% of EU companies choose to stay in China. China and the EU are expected to play a more prominent role in each other’s external cooperation.

We need to explore new areas of cooperation more proactively. In the coming decade, China’s service imports will reach 10 trillion US dollars. China and the EU need to seize this opportunity to expand trade in services to bring our economic and trade cooperation to a higher level. The two sides could, under the framework of the high-level environment and climate dialogue and the high-level digital cooperation dialogue, further unleash potential in these frontier areas and step up cooperation on technology, standards and rules-setting.

More importantly, we need to foster an open, fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for market players from both sides. China’s efforts to expand opening-up and improve business environment are widely recognized. Yet it seems that the EU is moving in the opposite direction. The recent steps taken by the EU in such areas as 5G, FDI screening, government procurement and competition policy have got the Chinese government, businesses and media very much concerned. The recent report of the China Chamber of Commerce to the EU put forward eight policy recommendations which aim to improve the business environment in the EU and to enhance China-EU business cooperation. We hope that the EU takes Chinese concerns seriously and keeps its trade and investment markets open.

Third, we need to adopt a broad and global vision. China and Europe are two major forces, two big markets and two great civilizations. What we stand for, what we oppose and what we work together on can make a difference for the world. We need to join forces to uphold principles which are valued by the vast majority of the international community, defend multilateralism, reject unilateralism, safeguard the UN-centered international order and system, and push for political settlement of regional and international hotspot issues. We need to work together to offer more public goods to the international community in good faith, for example, by supporting capacity building in countries with fragile health systems to get them better prepared for future infectious diseases. We need to conduct trilateral cooperation with African countries, on the basis of full respect for their wish, to help them address development bottlenecks in terms of infrastructure, manpower and financial resources. China already made specific proposals to the EU on trilateral cooperation with Africa. We hope to see them come to fruition sooner rather than later, in order to benefit the relevant countries and peoples, and to further strengthen the strategic and global dimensions of the China-EU relations.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In the post-COVID-19 era, a more stable and mature China-EU relationship will be crucial for prosperity and stability on both sides and beyond. China stands ready to work with the EU to turn the leaders’ commitment into actions, push forward the political and economic agenda, and take the relations to a higher level.

Thank you.

Nearly 300 people from the EU institutions, EU member states, national missions to the EU, business circles, think tanks, and media registered to attend the conference. After the briefing, nearly 30 experts and scholars from China and the EU conducted in-depth discussions on the prospects and challenges of China-EU relations as well as mutual understanding between China and the EU.

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