The International Relations Sub-session on China-EU Relations at the 5th Taihe Civilizations Forum was held online on September 8th, 2021. Dozens of domestic and overseas experts had extensive and candid discussions on the topic of “How to View the Current Situation and Prospects for China-EU Relations, and Enhance Mutual Understanding and Practical Cooperation.” The main opinions of guests at home and abroad are summarized and compiled as follows for the benefit of readers.
Li Ruiyu, Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to the Republic of Italy and the Republic of San Marino (2013-2019), stated that as two major forces, two major markets, and two major civilizations, what China and the EU decide to advocate, oppose, and cooperate on is not only of great significance to the development of China-EU relations, but will also have an important impact on the rest of the world. The development of China-EU relations should conform to their respective actual and long-term interests and strive to enhance people’s well-being on both sides.
What China and the EU need to do is view the development of China-EU relations from a strategic perspective, actively promote the long-term ties between China and the EU, promote dialogues and communication, resolve contradictions and differences, and jointly respond to various global challenges. In this way, China-EU relations can be stabilized, and thus provide greater stability for an unstable world that is experiencing profound changes.
H.E. Nicolas Chapuis, Ambassador of the European Union to China, said that at present, the political differences between China and Europe are greater, and public opinion in Europe about China has become more negative. There are several reasons behind this reality: the pandemic has aggravated international tensions and hindered exchanges between China and Europe; China’s statements such as “the East is rising while the West is declining” and “the pandemic proves the superiority of China’s governance system and the failure of Western liberalism” have affected the EU’s attitude and perceptions of China. Looking to the future of China-EU relations, the “EU-China – A strategic outlook” adopted in March 2019 is still underway. The EU calls on China and European countries to engage in pragmatic and rational interactions on issues of common concern. The EU does not oppose the rise of China, is not afraid of “fair” and “open” competition, nor does it seek confrontation with China, but it will continue to “defend its own values and interests based on universal values and international law.”
Wu Hailong, President of China Public Diplomacy Association, said that Sino-European relations have reached a deadlock, and it is unlikely to recover in the short term. The main reason is Europe’s closeness with the United States in terms of China policy. China hopes that Europe can decide on its China policy, act for its own interests, and manage its relations with China without being influenced by the U.S.
There is no fundamental conflict of interest between China and Europe. The differences in political systems and ideologies between China and Europe are not an insurmountable obstacle to the development of the bilateral relations. China’s development has not come at the expense of the interests of other countries, but instead has provided huge opportunities.
China does not treat Europe as its opponent, and China does not wish for Europe to treat it as an opponent. This world needs more partners than opponents. China has been, is now, and will always be a partner of Europe. Through extensive and in-depth dialogues and communication between China and the EU, misunderstandings can be eliminated, understanding and mutual trust can be enhanced, and bilateral relations can gradually be recovered. If Europe decides to treat China as an equal partner, China-EU relations will have great potential in the future.
H.E. Wim Geerts, Ambassador of the Netherlands to China, said that the driving force for China-EU relations remains strong. Despite many challenges, China and the EU remain important partners to each other and the international community. The Sino-European cooperative relationship is vital to the common prosperity of both sides in the face of global challenges.
The EU’s China policy is based on its own interests, and not on the demands of the United States. Looking to the future of China-EU relations, the EU hopes to develop China-EU trade relations in an “equal” and “reciprocal” manner. The EU promotes human rights in the world according to the United Nations human rights treaty system, so it is not singling China out. The EU acknowledges China’s achievements in poverty reduction and hopes China could expand its efforts to achieve the sustainable development goals (SDGs). The EU is highly concerned about the issue of climate change and welcomes China’s 30/60 carbon peak and neutrality goals. If China and the EU both want to succeed, they must facilitate good dialogue and regard each other seriously.
Ma Keqing, Executive Vice Chair of China National Committee for Pacific Economic Cooperation, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the People’s Republic of China to the Czech Republic (2014-2018), said that EU’s positioning of its relations with China in March 2019 caused chaos in the EU and member states’ policies towards China, and the persistent emphasis on “competition” and “rivalry” has seriously disrupted China-EU relations.
At present, the world views China and the EU as important forces that can strengthen mutual coordination and cooperation, and work with the international community to overcome current global challenges. This is also in the interests of both China and the EU. China is resolute that its relationship with the EU should be positioned as a “comprehensive strategic partner that has withstood the test of time and experience.” However, the attitude of the EU is not clear for the moment.
She hopes that EU institutions and member states can adopt an objective and rational view on China’s development, uphold strategic autonomy, demonstrate political courage, and work with China to overcome the current predicament as soon as possible. Both China and the EU should cherish their original aspirations, enhance mutual understanding, and promote China-EU relations with strategic consideration and the big picture in mind, thus ensuring a stable and sustainable development of China-EU relations.
Sven Biscop, Director of the Europe in the World Programme at the Egmont-Royal Institute for International Relations, and Professor at Ghent University, noted that China and the EU have shared interests. They should continue to pursue respectful cooperation despite differences in some areas. China and the EU need to abandon their prejudices and misconceptions. They should not regard each other as rivals who compete to become the world’s political leader. Rather, they should distinguish between hostility and competition, the former being malicious and deliberate, while the latter is inevitable as long as each side strives to safeguard their own legitimate rights. China, the U.S., Russia, and Europe should adopt a more equal and inclusive approach in building the multilateral system and shaping international rules.
Sun Yongfu, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute, and Director of European Affairs Department of Ministry of Commerce (2003-2015), said that the current state of China-EU bilateral relations are at a low level since the establishment of formal diplomatic relations in 1975 due to EU’s sanctions on China, and the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment has been suspended. However, darkness will eventually disappear, and the dawn draws nearer. Bilateral economic trade has grown despite the economic recession last year and this year, which shows that China-EU pragmatic cooperation has a solid foundation and win-win cooperation is still the goal of the bilateral relations. He hopes that both sides will continue to promote the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, expand the areas of cooperation, reduce friction through dialogues, and strive to achieve mutual benefit and win-win results for the benefit of peoples of China, the EU, and the whole world.
Ding Yifan, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute, said that dialogues between China and the EU need to become more inclusive and considerate. In the late years of the Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644), the first group of Christian priests abided by the Matteo Ricci Principle and did not interfere with Chinese customs and traditions. During the early years of Qing Dynasty, Pope Lorenzo Corsini ordered the priests to disrespect Chinese traditions, which forced the government to order bans on Christianity in China. China-EU cultural exchanges therefore stagnated for a long time. If today’s Europe, like the Pope in the early years of the Qing Dynasty, seeks to forcefully transform China’s traditional culture and current social governance model, then engagement between China and Europe would be in deadlock as in the past, and undermine future cultural exchanges.
H.E. Ahcene Boukhelfa, Ambassador of Algeria to China, stated that China does not seek hegemony, but the promotion of mutual benefit and cooperation. China’s foreign policies are grounded on respect for sovereignty, non-interference with countries’ internal affairs, and advocating peace and stability. The world today needs China as an active participant in international affairs, with its commitment to uphold the values of international relations, and ensure that these relations are more balanced and diverse.
Alexander Kulitz, Member of the German Bundestag, acknowledged that the public perception of China in Germany and Europe has become negative recently. Therefore, China, Germany and the whole EU should strengthen people-to-people and cultural exchanges, and enhance mutual understanding between them. If the public perception of China in Germany and Europe improves, it will have a huge positive impact on China-German and China-EU relations.
Thorsten Jelinek, Senior Fellow of Taihe Institute, and Director of Taihe Institute Europe Center, said that while there are some universal values, the criteria for judging these values and the paths to realize these values are not universal because of different cultural traditions and levels of development between countries. In view of this, China and the EU should continue dialogues to understand their differences.
H.E. Fariz Mehdawi, Ambassador of Palestine to China, noted that China-EU relations are vital to the Middle East and the whole world. He hopes that both China and the EU could play constructive roles in the multi-polar world, continue bilateral dialogues, and promote international cooperation on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. Diplomats involved in this process could facilitate more cooperation opportunities through friendly and constructive negotiation.
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