Remarks by H.E. Ambassador Zhang Ming at the European Parliament AFET Committee Meeting
23 September 2020
Chairman David McAllister,
Managing Director Gunnar Wiegand,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be invited to this debate on China-EU relations. I look forward to a frank and deep discussion with you.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the EU. Despite the COVID-19, the two sides keep advancing important China-EU agenda. We had a good China-EU summit in June and another successful summit among Chinese, EU and German leaders last Monday. We also had high-level dialogues on green, digital, trade and strategic issues.
Last Monday’s summit, with broad and in-depth discussions, provided strategic guidance and political impetus for the development of China-EU relations. The two sides formally signed the Geographical Indications (GI) Agreement. This is the first comprehensive and high-level GI Protection Agreement that China has signed with another partner. It was indeed not easy to bring the eight-year-long negotiation to fruition, which was not short of major external hindrances. Such achievement, widely applauded by people from both sides, speaks to the fact that China-EU economic and trade relations are defined by mutual benefit and openness.
This year, the investment agreement negotiation has come to a crucial stage and has visibly accelerated. The two sides have made significant progress on the level-playing field issues and are stepping up efforts to find a potential landing zone on market access and sustainable development. Last week, leaders from the two sides reaffirmed the commitment to speeding up the talks and concluding the agreement by the end of this year, lending fresh impetus to the talks. Today, a new round of talks has just started. I hope that the two sides could work together in a mutually accommodating spirit, with a view to reaching a comprehensive, balanced and high-level agreement this year, which can stand the test of times and satisfy the people in both China and the EU.
The EU takes green and digital transitions as the key to sustainable development. And two years ago, we in China wrote “ecological civilization” into the Chinese Constitution. Sustainable development is a common aspiration for our citizens, too. The two sides have decided to launch a high-level dialogue on environment and climate, and another one on digital cooperation, both being led by a Chinese Vice Premier and a EU Executive Vice President. This could offer more opportunities to enrich China-EU cooperation. Green and digital cooperation bears on the well-being of our children and grandchildren. We must take it seriously and increase input. China stands ready to be the EU’s green and digital partners.
Our leaders also discussed cooperation on COVID-19 response, notably on vaccine development and economic recovery. The pandemic is far from over globally. China and the EU, as two major forces and two big markets, could make a huge difference by driving global recovery and growth through their highly resilient economic and trade cooperation and by jointly assisting developing countries in outbreak response. Facing the daunting challenges of the pandemic, our rival is the virus, not each other. The only viable solution lies in partnership, which is crucial for upholding multilateralism. On trilateral cooperation with Africa, China already expressed its positive attitude to the EU side and put forward specific proposals. I hope the two sides could move faster to produce concrete results.
No doubt, due to the differences in history, tradition, social system and stage of development, China and the EU have disagreements. We cannot and need not shy away from that. What matters is to commit to peaceful coexistence, openness and cooperation, multilateralism, dialogue and consultation, and commit to properly managing differences.
I wish to explain a little bit the Chinese expression “相向而行”, which is often mechanically translated as “meeting each other halfway”. In fact, there seems to be no accurate English translation to convey its complete meaning, which is about a cooperative, open-minded and positive attitude to seek solutions. Some are saying that Europe is already quite open, and the ball is in China’s court to rebalance the economic and trade relations. Yet, to foster an open, fair, just and non-discriminatory regulatory environment, both sides need to move in the same direction, and neither should stop or even backslide. The tremendous changes in China in the past 40-plus years are attributable to its unwavering commitment to reform and opening-up. While China is now in uncharted waters in the course of reform with headwinds, its resolve to promote reform remains unchanged, and its efforts to expand opening-up are only to be enhanced further. We will do the right things at the right time. Since I arrived in Brussels three years ago, China’s ranking in the World Bank Report on Ease of Doing Business has risen from 78th to 31st, even higher than some EU member states. Sectors that the EU cares most about, like finance, infrastructure, transport and automobile, are further opened.
In promoting reform and opening-up, China has drawn on a lot of good experience from EU partners. However, we are hearing more and more complaints from Chinese companies in the EU, saying that the business environment here is becoming less friendly and that the policy uncertainties are on the rise. The EU policy measures on 5G, FDI screening, government procurement and competition rules have already dampened the confidence of Chinese companies. You may have read the paper by the EU Chamber of Commerce in China. I hope you can also read the recommendation report published by the China Chamber of Commerce to the EU this month, take the concerns of Chinese businesses seriously, and get them properly addressed.
For the China-EU relations to advance steadily, it is important to view their differences objectively and rationally, including those related to political system and development path. What comes first is to run one’s own affairs well, not to attempt to remold the other. The development of China-EU relations in the past 45 years reveals that differences do not necessarily lead to confrontation, nor do they hinder cooperation. It would be unwise to forget what history has taught us.
Chinese people are in the best position to judge China’s affairs. When observing and commenting on China, one must respect facts, not spread biased information, still less see things through colored lenses. We welcome well-intentioned criticisms, yet do not accept malicious attacks. Nor do we allow anyone to meddle in China’s internal affairs.
You are representatives of citizens and opinion leaders. Your support is crucial for the sound and stable growth of China-EU relations. I believe that as long as we both sincerely work for the good of our citizens and the good of China-EU relations, we will be able to find more and more common language.