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A Changing Europe and Its Relations with China

by Dr. Song Tao, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China

August 30, 2012 (TSR) – Today, both political and economic landscapes of the world are undergoing profound and complex changes. Under the new circumstances, it will be significant for us to have a correct understanding of Europe and cultivate a sound China-Europe relationship. It will be good for world peace, development and cooperation, and good for China to make the most of its period of strategic opportunities, take a holistic approach to its domestic and external agenda, and better safeguard its sovereignty, security and development interests.

With the highest concentration of developed countries, Europe is an important and unique force in today’s world. At the heart of Europe is the EU, now the world’s biggest economy and the mainstay of Europe. For years, the EU has been spearheading the region’s integration process and exploring a development path for post-modern countries and post-industrialization societies. While Germany, France and the UK and others are demonstrating great economic might and important international influence, countries in central, eastern, southern and northwestern Europe also display a mix of unique features in their respective development.

Affected by the international financial crisis and sovereign debt problem in recent years, Europe has come into a period of turmoil with acute economic, political and social difficulties. The integration process has come to a standstill. Development imbalance has become more salient. Cohesion within the EU is on the decrease. Doubts about Europe’s economic policy, social model and even political system are on the increase. Europe’s ability to act on the global stage has been constrained. In short, hard time is falling on Europe, one of the hardest since the end of the Cold War.

On the other hand, the crisis has played an “action-forcing” role for Europe. More and more people have come to realize that problems Europe faces are systematic and structural. To come back, Europe must act quickly to transform, adjust and adapt to the new developments of globalization and to the development of emerging countries. The current predicament of Europe is hardly avoidable in the course of integration, which can be solved only by accelerating and deepening the integration process. That may be a fairly long process which requires a lot of hard work.

Europe has always featured prominently in China’s diplomatic work. When New China was founded, some European countries were among the first countries to establish diplomatic ties with us. Since the beginning of our reform and opening-up, Europe has played an important role in terms of capital, technology and managerial expertise. It is worth mentioning that especially in the past 10 years, we have, under the correct leadership of the CPC Central Committee, overcome many obstacles and difficulties and achieved fresh headway in our relations with Europe, which showed a good momentum of improvement amid stability and progress amid changes.

The past 10 years saw China-Europe relations constantly moving onto higher levels. China and the EU launched a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2003, a brand new height in bilateral ties. The annual China-EU summit mechanism has strengthened mutual understanding and mutual trust and helped bring about all-round and multi-tiered cooperation in a wide range of fields. The two sides have put in place other mechanisms such as a high-level economic and trade dialogue, a high-level strategic dialogue and a high-level people-to-people dialogue, acting as three pillars of cooperation in the political, economic and people-to-people fields.

The past 10 years saw China-Europe result-oriented cooperation becoming increasingly fruitful. Since 2004, the EU has been China’s largest trading partner for eight consecutive years. It is also a major source of investment and technology for China. By holding the inaugural round of China-Germany inter-government consultations, China has put such mechanism in place for the first time between itself and a major Western country. China and France have carried out productive cooperation in aviation, nuclear energy and low-carbon energy. China and the UK have made good progress in infrastructure and investment cooperation. The successful leaders’ meeting between China and 16 Central and Eastern European countries is an important innovation in the modality and content of China-Europe cooperation.

The past 10 years saw the two sides constantly upgrading their coordination and cooperation in the international arena. In the wake of the 9.11 incident and the Iraq war, in light of new developments in the world, China and the EU have worked vigorously to promote a multi-polar world and inter-civilization dialogue and exchanges. After the international financial crisis broke out, China and the EU have worked together at the G20 summits and other fora to promote reforms to the international economic and financial order. China and the EU have conducted extensive dialogue and cooperation on regional affairs in Asia-Pacific, Africa, Central Asia and the Middle East and on such global issues as arms control, non-proliferation, human rights and climate change.

After Europe was hit by a sovereign debt problem, China has continued to view the situation in Europe in the context of its overall development and economic and social fundamentals. We have maintained a strategic and long-term perspective and stayed committed to Europe and our relations with Europe. We have been active in conveying our confidence in Europe and its integration process. We have also done what we can to help Europe through bilateral and multilateral channels. When Europe ran into difficulties, China has not joined the chorus to talk down Europe but actively supported it in tiding over difficulties. This comes as a sharp contrast to the behavior of certain countries.

The past 10 years of China-Europe relations have showed that China and Europe are indispensable partners of cooperation to each other, be it in their respective development or in international affairs. What’s more, this relationship enjoys a huge potential. The closer the two sides get in development level, the greater need we will have for each other and the broader room we will have for cooperation.

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When Europe ran into difficulties, China has not joined the chorus to talk down Europe but actively supported it in tiding over difficulties. This comes as a sharp contrast to the behavior of certain countries.

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Right now, both China and Europe face new historical opportunities and enjoy broad prospects for development. China always believes that a united, stable and prosperous Europe is in China’s interests. Europe, on its part, also sees closer cooperation with China as its strategic necessity rather than an expediency. It is true that China and Europe differ greatly in civilization, system and development path. But in this “global village” brought about by fast globalization, China and Europe should and can converge their interests through deeper cooperation. We stand ready to join hands with Europe, increase investment in China-Europe relations, and work for faster expansion of our relations at higher levels. To this end, I wish to suggest the following:

Politically, China and the EU should respect each other, treat each other as equals and work to enhance strategic trust between them. China will stick to its path of peaceful development and dedicate itself to closer cooperation with other countries. China and the EU should view each other’s development as its own important opportunity. They should learn from each other and share respective development experience through closer high-level contacts and political dialogue. Efforts should be made to explore new ways and new channels of cooperation in light of the overarching direction and specific goals of China-EU relations and different characteristics of EU member states, European sub-regions and EU institutions, with a view to creating a synergy and tapping into multiple resources.

The 15th China-EU Summit will be held in Brussels later this year. As China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership approaches the end of its first decade, such a meeting will be of important value for the continued building of China-EU relations. Both China and the EU attach great importance to the summit. It is our hope that the meeting will, by reviewing and evaluating the progress made so far, draw a more detailed blueprint for closer China-EU cooperation and chart a clearer course for the evolving China-EU relations into the future.

China and Germany is holding their second round of inter-government consultations in Beijing this week. Seven cabinet members and two state secretaries from the German side joins Chancellor Merkel in the consultations. The two sides will discuss a cooperation package which covers trade, investment, finance, infrastructure and other areas, and are likely to achieve new outcomes in manufacturing, trade, finance, energy-saving building, and people-to-people exchanges. I am confident that the second round of China-Germany inter-government consultations will further solidify the foundation for future China-Germany relations and inject fresh vitality into China-Germany and China-EU cooperation.

Economically, China and the EU should strengthen their result-oriented cooperation for mutual benefit and win-win outcomes. Building closer economic and trade ties between China and the EU is vitally important for promoting economic prosperity and ensuring steady development. We are ready to work with Europe to explore ways for strengthening economic and trade relations, making full use of China-EU high-level economic and trade dialogue and other existing mechanisms. China-EU cooperation enjoys a broad prospect in such areas as urbanization, sustainable development and technological innovation, and we are ready to help bring business people from both sides together for practical cooperation in the relevant fields.

The Chinese government will continue to support Europe in its efforts to address the sovereign debt problem. Right now, many European countries are working energetically to attract investment, promote growth and boost employment. We will encourage our enterprises to invest and set up factories in Europe. And we hope that the European side will uphold the principle of fairness and create conditions for Chinese investment. China is ready to negotiate an investment protection agreement with Europe to provide safeguards and facilitation for mutual investment. In the meantime, China works hard to push free trade negotiations with certain European countries while looking at the modality and timing for a China-EU free trade arrangement as a longer-term goal.

Culturally, China and the EU should step up their exchanges and dialogue to promote common prosperity through mutual emulation. Cultural exchanges provide an inexhaustible driving force for evolving China-EU relations. We are ready to study the possibility of establishing high-level mechanisms for people-to-people and cultural exchanges with still more European countries, and to step up multi-level cultural exchanges with Europe by setting up “Confucius Institutes”, holding “cultural dialogue year”, “Chinese culture year” and conducting other branded activities. Efforts should be made to promote interaction between Chinese and European think tanks and scholars, and make “track 1.5″ and “track 2″ exchanges more institutionalized and standardized. We hope the European side will take bigger steps in facilitating personnel exchanges between the two sides.

At the same time, China and the EU should properly control and manage their differences. China and the EU have different positions and practices in such areas as promoting democracy and human rights, and from time to time, their relations are adversely affected by ideology and other considerations. As conditions in China-EU economic and trade relations upgrade and contacts between the two sides grow, China-EU competition and frictions have been on the increase unavoidably. Yet on the whole, the two sides have more commonalities than differences, and more cooperation than competition. The two sides should view and handle these issues with a historical and comprehensive approach and prevent them from making a big impact on the overall relations.

Both the changing times and evolving needs of the two sides have given China-EU relations additional elements and higher requirements. With China and the EU, each representing the world’s emerging forces and key traditional forces, their relations have gone far beyond the bilateral scope and acquired ever growing global relevance. Our world is undergoing profound and complex changes, with hotspot issues cropping up now and then, domestic and international events becoming intertwined and influencing one another, and turbulence at both regional and global levels clearly on the rise. Against this backdrop, China and the EU should work hard to promote a just and equitable new order of international relations and jointly maintain peace and security of the world.

World economic recovery continues to move forward at a snail’s pace, yet it has already seriously undermined the welfare of the people around the world, and weakened their faith in the future. As the world’s major emerging economy and developed economy, China and the EU should first ensure stability and growth in their respective domains and, on that basis, work together to oppose protectionism, uphold a just and open international trade and financial order, and advocate a new approach for international economic governance. This is the surest way for achieving common prosperity and development in the world.

The successive outbreak of the international financial crisis, the European sovereign debt problem and revolution in West Asia and North Africa shows, among others, that countries are entering a period of deep transition and adjustment where different ideas and different models clash with one another fiercely. Both China and the EU are supportive of a world of diversity and co-existence. They should act with an inclusive mentality, respect the choice made by the people of other countries, support countries in their exploration for a path of development suited to their national conditions, refrain from imposing their opinions upon others or meddling with other’s affairs, and make even greater efforts to promote harmony and development in the world.

Looking ahead, I am full of confidence in the future of China-EU relations. We will work with our European partners with a correct assessment of the new situations, new objectives and new tasks for growing China-EU relations. We will update our thinking in keeping with the changing times. We will develop China-EU relations with a creative mindset, further explore and unleash the potential of China-EU cooperation, and jointly usher in an even brighter future for both China and the EU and the world at large.

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AUTHOR: Dr. Song Tao

Dr. Song Tao is a member of the China’s Ministerial Leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs serving its Vice Minister. He has a PhD in Economics whose area of responsibilities is general office, disciplinary inspection, Department of Chinese Diplomatic Missions Abroad, and archives.

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