Get the Perception Right and Take China-EU Cooperation Forward
An Article Published by Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of Chinese Mission to the EU, on South China Morning Post
12 September 2020
Early next week, leaders of China, the EU and Germany, holder of the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU, are going to meet via video conferencing. This is a new way of China-EU interactions at a special time. In a world full of uncertainties, leaders from both sides need to provide strategic guidance on key issues to keep China-EU relations on the right track.
A serious issue for China and the EU at the moment is how to perceive each other correctly. We are of the view that China and the EU are partners that present opportunities to each other, not rivals that pose threats to each other. Our differences in social system and development path are not obstacles to dialogue and cooperation, still less do they support the argument that either China or the EU should be viewed by the other side as a systemic rival. The dynamic growth of China-EU relations in the past 45 years gives the most telling example of how two parties could seek common ground and shared benefits while navigating through differences.
Though COVID-19 accelerates the profound changes in the international landscape, the fundamentals of China-EU relations, which are defined by mutual benefit, complementarity, dialogue and cooperation, remain unchanged. China has never had any interest to turn the pandemic into an arena of competing systems or into a leverage to divide the EU. Just a decade ago, China and the EU fought the global financial crisis shoulder to shoulder. It is now imperative to guard against any attempt to look at China-EU cooperation through the lens of geopolitics or ideology. The so-called “battle of narratives” would do much to help sow misgivings and dissensions, yet do little to help fight the pandemic.
COVID-19 will not change China’s deep engagement with the rest of the world. As the largest developing country, China contributes to world peace and global development, upholds international order, and provides public goods. China has always undertaken and will continue to undertake responsibilities commensurate with its capabilities. China’s rejuvenation is about achieving the prosperity of the country, revitalization of the nation and happiness of the people. This is all too fair and reasonable, and has nothing to do with expansionism or power politics. China does not want to interfere with, remold or replace anyone, still less does it want to upend or rebuild the international order. Of course, there are still people who would choose to project their own outdated mentality onto China or to misinterpret China’s strategic intent. But they could not be further from the truth and would only boggle the mind to no avail.
To get the perception right is, at the end of the day, for the sake of stronger cooperation. If we truly see each other as comprehensive strategic partners, cooperation will not be an expediency that works for now and short-term gains, but a strategic choice that works in the long term and produces win-win results. If we take partners for rivals, even gains, if any, would be short-lived at the expense of the future.
China and the EU indeed need to take actions to get things done as planned and as quickly as possible, such as signing the geographical indications agreement soon, finishing the investment agreement negotiation by the end of the year, and concluding the China-EU 2025 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation sooner rather than later. The two sides also need to be open and visionary enough to identify new opportunities for cooperation under the changing circumstances, with a view to making China-EU relations even more relevant in a global context through sustained collaboration.
The pressing task now is for China and the EU to work together on both public health and economic recovery, to counter COVID-19 and its collateral impact and to help the international community come out of the crisis at an early date. We need to build synergy between our development strategies by exploring more possibilities for green and digital cooperation, to the benefits of both sides at a higher level. We need to stand vigorously for multilateralism, and safeguard peace and stability in international order.
As Chinese Ambassador to the EU, I look forward to the upcoming leaders video conference, which hopefully will provide strategic guidance for our relations. I am always confident that our two sides are able to consolidate strategic trust and take our mutually beneficial cooperation forward continuously.