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Ambassador Zhang Ming Gives an Exclusive Interview to Bloomberg TV
2020/09/19

On September 15, 2020, Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, gave an exclusive interview to Bloomberg TV. Ambassador Zhang spelt out the outcomes of China-Germany-EU leaders’ meeting and answered questions on China-EU investment agreement negotiation, cyber and data security, human rights, etc. The following is the transcript:

Bloomberg: Ambassador, thank you so much for being on Bloomberg again. You're doing this after the EU-China Summit that happened yesterday. But I have to ask you, for the second time, there was no joint communiqué. There were no conclusions. We're waiting for the investment agreement to be finalized. Do you think that can happen in 2020 or we are going to have to wait until next year?

Zhang Ming: It's my pleasure to have an interview once again. As you mentioned, yesterday, President Xi Jinping had a meeting with President Charles Michel, President Ursula von der Leyen and Chancellor Angela Merkel via video link. I can say they made a success, even without a statement. You know, a statement is not an indication of success. The video summit was candid and productive with deliverables and broad consensus, providing strategic guidance for the growth of China-EU relations. The leaders discussed climate and biodiversity, economy and trade, international issues and COVID-19 response. We hope to work with the EU to turn consensus into actions.

For the deliverables, I can mention some of them. First, we formally signed the GI (Geographical Indications)Agreement. Second, we reaffirmed the commitment to speeding up the BIT talks and concluding the agreement by the end of this year. Third, we established the high-level environment and climate dialogue and the high-level digital dialogue.

Bloomberg: So ambassador, do you think that there can be an agreement before the end of the year? Because the Europeans yesterday said that we're not going to be forced into a deadline and we'd rather wait and get substance. For China, do you want to get it done and concluded in 2020?

Zhang Ming: The leaders reached agreement to conclude the talks by the end of the year. I think they believe in it. The BIT negotiation is a most important item on the China-EU agenda. At the video summit yesterday, leaders of both sides confirmed the need to speed up the talks and reaffirmed the commitment to concluding the agreement by the end of this year. With a global recession caused by the COVID-19, this is a special and positive message of China and the EU jointly upholding multilateralism and openness, and pushing for economic recovery. In fact, we have already achieved progress on the level playing field issues, like transfer of technology, subsidy transparency and SOEs (state-owned enterprises). Later this month, there will be another round of talks focusing on sustainable development and market access. We hope to make further progress in a spirit of cooperation. Meanwhile, our ambition should not stop with an investment agreement. China calls on the EU to jointly kick-start the FTA process at an early date. China is ready. The ball is in the EU’s court.

Bloomberg: That’s interesting. Because President von der Leyen said it’s not. It’s in China's court and you have to make yourself a case for this agreement. So what areas of the Chinese economy could be perhaps opened up to Europe in a greater way?

Zhang Ming:Under the framework of the BIT agreement, I think China will make a big step forward in the opening-up to Europe. Times are changing, yet globalization will not be reversed. China’s door will not be shut, and will only open wider and wider. China has become much more open than before, which was recognized by Chancellor Merkel at yesterday’s press conference. I think you have heard that. We shorten the negative list for foreign investors year by year, reducing the number of restrictive measures from about 180 to 33. Restrictions for the finance sector have been down to zero. Other sectors that the EU cares most about, like infrastructure, transport, and automobile, are further opened. China also has its market access concerns for the EU, like energy, 5G and so on. We hope the EU will address China’s concerns properly, and keep the door open, not closing the door.

Bloomberg: In terms of 5G,as you mentioned, Huawei still believes they can win contracts here in Europe. They're waiting for Germany to make a decision on the 5G network. Do you think China still has an opportunity on that? Because it seems that the U.S. is fully closed and countries like France, UK have said they don't want to work with China on this.

Zhang Ming: China is always a big and open market for telecommunication. The leaders discussed about this topic. I noticed that the leaders, as well as all the international community, pay great importance to cyber and data security. Cyber and data security is an issue of common concern. We should not rely on a go-it-alone approach, still less on groundless discrediting, coercion, or bullying other countries’ enterprises. The only effective solution is global cooperation, not a digital iron curtain.

China upholds data security protection. We never ask Chinese companies to break the laws of the host countries by handing over overseas data to the Chinese government. China recently put forward a Global Initiative on Data Security. We welcome the participation of other members of the international community, including the EU. At yesterday’s summit, we announced the establishment of the China-EU High-level Digital Dialogue. We want to build a digital partnership with the EU, and jointly promote standard-setting in the digital area.

As we know, recently, some European countries excluded Chinese 5G suppliers or labeled Chinese companies as high-risk suppliers, without any evidence to prove their products are unsafe and even without clear criteria for the so-called “high risk”. As we know, the EU has a 5G security toolbox. I'm so sorry that the box is a “dark box”. Nobody knows what the criteria for the high-risk suppliers are. If I were a supplier, I wouldn’t know how to improve myself and become a low-risk supplier or non-risk supplier. We know nothing. This is against the principles of free trade, multilateralism and non-discrimination. It is not helpful, even to the development of European telecommunication market. We hope that the relevant countries could reconsider their decisions and treat Chinese companies fairly. I also hope the EU will make the “dark box” a transparent one, a glass one.

Bloomberg: So you made it clear that you believe the toolbox is unfair against China and you told that to the European leaders yesterday. Did they give you any assurance that they're not going to force sales or block deals using the way the US has done with TikTok, for example, in the US. Did you get any assurances that it is not going to happen?

Zhang Ming: They declared the principle of fairness. But we hope to see the problem and the issue resolved. We want to see the results. For the TikTok, it is a popular App. As a government official, I would not comment on the operations of a certain company. What has happened to TikTok in the United States is a typical act of coercive transaction. Some American politicians try to build the so-called Clean Network under the cover of fairness and reciprocity. Yet on the other hand, they abuse the concept of national security to go after non-US companies without any evidence. This is nothing but economic bullying. China is firmly against that. We support the relevant company defending its lawful rights and interests.

Bloomberg: Do you think that could happen here in Europe? Perhaps we could see more regulation from the EU just aimed at China.

Zhang Ming: We see the EU as a strategic partner. We count on the EU as a multilateral and market principles upholder. They stick to their DNA. So we don't hope to see such a phenomenon taking place in Europe.

Bloomberg: What happens if that does take place? Does China have a plan B,when it comes to Europe and more regulation, to make your case for what you think is fair business?

Zhang Ming: As a government official, I don't make comments on a certain company. The company will deal with the case. But I'm trying to defend the principles and rules. As I mentioned, we trust the European partners, because they stick to the rules and standards. I don't think the European DNA could be changed.

Bloomberg: Mr. Ambassador, how much of a problem is Hong Kong in these negotiations? Because we understand that, once again, it came up yesterday and we understand that President Xi said that this is something that the Europeans simply shouldn't comment on.

Zhang Ming: Hong Kong is part of China and issues relating to Hong Kong are the internal affairs of my country. Non-interference in internal affairs is one of the principles guiding international relations. It is a common sense. Since we take the EU as our strategic partner, we exchanged views on something like that. The Chinese side has tried to explain the facts, truth, and reasons for the so-called Hong Kong issue. It is based on mutual respect. We aim to communicate and exchange views and ideas. I hope the EU side will stop any attempt to meddle in the internal affairs of my country.

Bloomberg: What happens if, as they argue, human rights, the politics and the trade do come together as one? Is that something that China can accept for a negotiation to mix all of it?

Zhang Ming: In fact, we refuse anyone or any country trying to interfere in our internal affairs. That's a principle. At the same time, we are open to communicating and discussing those issues of common interest. We don't refuse to make misunderstandings clear to our partners.

Bloomberg: I have to ask you about Brexit. There's a negotiation that is still happening. But the UK has introduced a new legislation which Europe says breaches international law. Now you said countries have to respect international law. Do you worry about what you see happening in the UK with regards to Europe?

Zhang Ming: I noticed that media friends are interested in China's position on Brexit. China sticks to the principle of non-interference in internal affairs,always and everywhere. For Brexit, it's an issue between the EU and the UK. According to Chinese culture and tradition, we can never push any couple to separate or to get divorced. But anyway, in the final analysis, it is their own affair. We respect their decisions. At the same time, we hope that their talks and negotiations on the route toward the Brexit go smoothly without any trouble to themselves and to the world.

Bloomberg: But I guess that for China, perhaps this idea of respecting treaties, without specifically focusing on the UK, is something that you care about when you do trade.

Zhang Ming: Of course, all the members of the international community are supposed to follow the principles of the international law,like China does. We stick to non-interference in internal affairs. That's an example. All of us should respect the international law.

Bloomberg: And just as a final question, do you have an update on the vaccine?

Zhang Ming: For the vaccine development, China has made great efforts. I think some of our vaccine products have got into the final period of trial. The leaders in yesterday's meeting discussed about the cooperation on vaccine development. China is actively involved in global cooperation on vaccine. China made public the world’s first data from human trial, providing useful information for R&D activities. We work with UAE, Brazil, Indonesia, and other countries on the phase III trial. Chinese companies also work with European and American companies, like GSK and Inovio. Vaccines must be safe and effective, following global standards and rules. China supports the WHO in coordinating vaccine development, production, and deployment. We are working with the WHO on issues like vaccine accreditation and standard-setting. Anyway, we are close partners in this regard.

Bloomberg: Thank you so much for your time. It was good to see you. We hope to see in person at one point.

Zhang Ming: Thank you for very much. I hope that we can have the possibility to do a physical interview as soon as possible.

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