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Ambassador Zhang Ming Gives an Exclusive Interview to CGTN
2021/03/09

On March 2, 2021, Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, gave an exclusive interview to CGTN Europe correspondent Andrew Wilson. Ambassador Zhang answered questions on China’s annual “Two Sessions”, China-EU relations, CAI, climate change, Covid-19 vaccines, etc. The following is the transcript:

CGTN: Ambassador Zhang Ming, thank you very much indeed for talking to us at the particular time of Two Sessions in Beijing this week. The big news in our part of the world is the EU’s trade deal with China signed just at the end of last year. How do you think that will affect China’s relationship with Europe, and more importantly, what about Europe’s relationship with the US?

Zhang Ming: Good afternoon, Andrew. Thank you for having me. The international landscape is getting more complex and volatile. COVID-19 has brought even more instability and uncertainties. But looking back, we can find that the upward momentum of China-EU relations has not changed. Last year saw even more robust and productive cooperation.

Bilateral high-level exchanges were more frequent than ever before. President Xi Jinping held three video meetings with EU leaders. We had a good annual summit and agreed to launch two new high-level dialogues on green and digital development.

As the bedrock of China-EU relations, economic and trade cooperation continued to deliver good results. China has become the EU’s largest trading partner for the first time. The China-EU GI Agreement came into effect on March 1. No doubt, the investment agreement as you mentioned has caught much attention. The agreement is good news for China-EU cooperation, global economic recovery and China’s reform and opening-up. The two sides will push forward the follow-up work, to ensure that Chinese and European people and businesses could benefit from this agreement at an early date.

In developing China-EU relations, what matters most is to proceed from common interests and make decisions independently. Only in this way can we get big things done to the benefit of both sides and the world. This year, we expect to see a turning point in global COVID-19 response, economic recovery and multilateral cooperation. China-EU relations are embracing more opportunities. The two sides should work more closely together to fight the virus, develop green and digital economy, and turn commitment to multilateralism into concrete actions. The biodiversity and climate change conferences could offer great opportunities. The growth of China-EU relations does not target any third party. Hopefully, the EU, while developing relations with other countries, does not take China as a target.

CGTN: At the Munich Security Conference, there was a lot of talk about transatlantic cooperation. The Biden administration is reaching out to strengthen ties with European countries because of their concerns about economic challenge from China. What’s your take on that?

Zhang Ming: As the world is struggling with COVID-19, economic recovery, climate change and other global challenges, cooperation is needed more than ever before. At the recent international conferences, leaders expressed their shared wish to enhance solidarity and cooperation. It’s clear to all that unilateralism that puts oneself first doesn’t work. The only way out is multilateralism.

President Biden said, “America is back”. European leaders welcomed that and hope to renew the transatlantic relations. We hope that the focus of the US return to global stage is supporting multilateralism, and that the focus of EU-US cooperation is addressing global challenges. That would be good for all.

There are some voices across the Atlantic, saying that China is the major competitor or challenge to the West and calling for a joint EU-US agenda on China. I want to stress here that China knows well what it is doing and what it should do. We just eradicated extreme poverty. There is a lot more to be done to deliver a better life to the 1.4 billion Chinese people. China does not have the time, energy or interest to be anyone’s rival, nor does China want to be seen as a rival by anyone. At the Davos Forum, President Xi said that we should stay committed to openness and inclusiveness instead of isolation and exclusion. To build small circles or start a new Cold War would only lead the world to division and confrontation. We cannot tackle common challenges in a divided world. I have also noted that in the G7 joint statement, leaders expressed the willingness to cooperate with China and other G20 economies.

China-EU relationship has a solid basis and a value in its own right. The EU advocates strategic autonomy and open cooperation. The development of EU-US relations should not affect the normal development of China-EU relations, still less at the expense of China-EU relations. Hopefully, the EU will act in this spirit and continue to approach its relations with major countries in a broad context, contribute to the growth of China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership, and global stability and prosperity.

CGTN: With China now being the largest trading partner for the EU, can we see the EU-China relationship as being a test case, an example of good practice for other nations to see on how things can improve in the future?

Zhang Ming: China-EU cooperation in economy, trade and finance promotes each other’s economic and social development, and contributes to the multilateral trading system. China’s rise as the EU’s largest trading partner is an encouraging development.

Despite the COVID-19, China-EU economic and trade cooperation is highly resilient. The EU’s trade in goods with China grew by 4.4%, the only positive growth among the EU’s major trading partners. Confidence in investment is not subdued. Last year, the EU FDI to China amounted to 5.7 billion US dollars and China’s investment in the EU was 4.7 billion US dollars. As the world is struggling to contain the virus, it is important for China and the EU to maintain smooth flows of goods, normal operation of investment projects and secure and stable supply chains, which is crucial for economic recovery.

I noticed that some media and think tanks are debating who is the EU’s largest trading partner. I would say that China respects the EU’s trading partnerships with any party. We are more interested in the quality and real results of our cooperation, than the ranking or volume itself. Facts, past and present, have proven that with peaceful coexistence, open cooperation, multilateralism and dialogue, China and the EU could expand shared interests and address difficult issues.

CGTN: Let’s move on to climate change if we can. Two important meetings this year were both postponed from last year, which are the biodiversity talks at Kunming in China and the COP26 talks at Glasgow in the UK. We know the Chinese government has been clear that it wants to set targets for reducing carbon emissions, greenhouse gases, and so on. How motivated is the Chinese public to tackle climate change? Do they understand the importance of backing your country about participating in this world problem?

Zhang Ming: China and the EU both support the Paris Agreement and have announced the vision for carbon neutrality. Last year, the two sides agreed to launch the High-level Environment and Climate Dialogue, and held the first meeting in early February. As both sides see low-carbon and circular economy as a medium-and-long-term approach to development, green cooperation would be a hallmark for China-EU relations.

The two sides need to step up green policy coordination, and enhance cooperation in energy transition, emissions reduction, low-carbon infrastructure, green transport, industrial technologies, green materials and green finance.

The two sides need to lead the global climate response in multilateral frameworks, ensure the success of COP15, COP26 and the World Conservation Congress, contribute to the sustainable development agenda, and make our planet a better place.

Citizens’ involvement is crucial for climate actions. In China, there is a growing public awareness on climate response. Opinion polls show that 97% of Chinese citizens support government policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions. 75% of citizens would like to pay extra for climate-friendly products. More Chinese people prefer energy-efficient home appliances and new energy vehicles. In 2020, China accounts for 41% of the total global sales of new energy vehicles. Annual sales of electric passenger cars exceeded 1 million for the first time. Some Chinese NGOs launched online campaigns for tree planting. People could use mobile apps to win scores according to the number of steps they walk every day, and then donate their scores to tree-planting activities to help with desert control. This is quite popular in China. We are now preparing for the 2022 Beijing Olympic Winter Games, and aim to make the Games carbon-neutral. Our citizens strongly support this initiative.

CGTN: Let’s talk about vaccines. One EU country has already taken a purchase of one of the Chinese vaccines. Where do you stand on this issue of sharing vaccines, accusations of vaccine nationalism, the COVAX idea, the need to share vaccine production to make sure that the whole world is immunized?

Zhang Ming: Pharmaceutical companies and scientists around the world have developed multiple COVID-19 vaccines using different technologies, increasing the chances of defeating the virus. China respects the decision of individual countries on which vaccines to use. While meeting a huge domestic demand for vaccines, China is also doing its best to support other countries, including some European countries. This is a concrete action of China to deliver on its commitment to making vaccines a global public good. In COVID-19 response, people and life always come first. Vaccination is a very useful tool to stop the virus, not a geopolitical instrument.

I have noticed that UN Secretary-General and WHO Director-General are talking about fair distribution of vaccines. The international community, especially developed countries, should pay more attention to this and take actions. In global COVID-19 response, the “wooden barrel effect” applies, namely, our efforts are only as strong as the weakest link. There will be no lasting safety for all until every country or individual is safe. China and the EU have both joined the ACT-Accelerator and COVAX. China has decided to provide 10 million doses of vaccine to COVAX, primarily to meet the needs of other developing countries. The EU has recently made an additional donation of 500 million euros to COVAX, which we commend. We call on all parties to provide more vaccines to developing countries. China hopes to work with the EU to support WHO in global response and increase the accessibility and affordability of vaccines in developing countries.

CGTN: It’s Two Sessions season in Beijing. That’s obviously an important time for you. China's next five-year plan will be announced soon. We know it's going to be heavily weighted towards “dual-circulation”, science, technology and innovation. What do you think the five-year plan will do in terms of China's international relations, particularly with the EU?

Zhang Ming: This year, China will start the 14th Five-Year Plan period. China will foster a new development paradigm with domestic circulation as the mainstay and domestic and international circulations reinforcing each other. I have noticed some doubts from the international community, including from the EU.

In fact, the “dual-circulation” does not mean self-isolation or self-sufficiency. On the contrary, China will further tap the potential of its domestic demand and continue to open up and seek international cooperation. We want to build stronger links between China market and global markets, share resources, and deliver the benefits of the huge Chinese market to all.

In the next decade, China will import goods worth more than 22 trillion US dollars. Chinese economy, though the second largest in the world, only accounts for 16.4% of the world economy. So the global market is still far larger than China’s domestic market, and is as important to China as ever. The “dual-circulation” paradigm will provide more cooperation opportunities to the world, including China and the EU.

As you said, science and innovation will play a central role in China’s modernization. As China further develops and opens up, it does a lot more to protect intellectual properties not because it is asked to do so, but because it wants to do so on its own initiative and do it in a more systematic and comprehensive way. In the coming five years, we will strengthen the rule of law, step up the whole-process protection of IPR, and advance global cooperation. This is what must be done to modernize China’s governance. This will better safeguard the interests of European companies in China and the STI cooperation between Chinese and European businesses.

China will formulate a specialized plan for science and innovation development for the 14th five-year plan period and make a 2021-2035 national development plan for science and technology. We will speed up efforts to build new infrastructure, like 5G, industrial internet and big data centres. China and the EU are now working on a joint roadmap for STI cooperation. All this will lend fresh impetus to China-EU STI cooperation.

CGTN: There is a concern about bifurcation and decoupling. Companies in the EU and around the world feel maybe they have to make a choice between loyalty to China, business with China and loyalty to the US, business with the US. Is China aware of that danger of a decoupling process?

Zhang Ming: We can hear some voices of decoupling. I don’t think any serious people, company or government are ready to decouple from the global economy. Because after decades of globalization, the globe has become a small village, connecting each other closely. We rely on each other. Maybe in China, in some context, we rely on something happening in Africa, in Latin America, or in Europe. So I don’t think decoupling is a common choice for the international community.

CGTN: Ambassador Zhang, thank you very much indeed for your time. It was a pleasure to talk to you.

Zhang Ming: Thank you for having me. I hope we can meet face-to-face soon.

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