Source: Global Times Published: 2019-4-3
Coming just two weeks after Chinese President Xi Jinping's trip to Europe in late March, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Europe next week shows how highly China values its ties with Europe, said a senior Chinese diplomat on Wednesday.
Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao made the remarks at a press briefing in Beijing Wednesday, adding that both Xi and Li have chosen Europe for their first foreign visits this year, kicking off a "season of Europe" for Chinese diplomacy for 2019.
According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang on Tuesday, as agreed by China and the European side and at the invitation of Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic of Croatia, from April 8 to 12, Premier Li will travel to Brussels, Belgium for the 21st China-EU Leaders' Meeting and to Croatia for an official visit and the 8th China-CEEC (Central and Eastern European Countries) Summit.
Cui Hongjian, director of EU Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday that "China-Europe relations are experiencing great changes at this moment, so this is a crucial period for the two sides to shape their future relationship."
In general, Europe needs to find out what role China will play in the future of European integration, and China needs to find what role the EU, or the whole of Europe, can play in China's opening-up and reform in the next stage, Cui noted.
The Chinese government released a document titled "China's Policy Paper on the European Union" in December 2018, which identified China and the EU as "indispensable partners to each other's reform and development."
However, a similar policy document published by the European Commission on March 12, titled "EU-China - A strategic outlook," describes the China-EU relationship as simultaneously "a cooperation partner, a negotiating partner, an economic competitor and a systemic rival."
The two sides still have differences on how they define each other, which is why leaders on both sides need to maintain close communication on finding a direction to develop the China-EU relationship in the long term, Cui said.
Wang Yiwei, Jean Monnet Chair Professor at the Renmin University of China, said that more needs to be done than just planning for a long term relationship.
"There are urgent matters that both sides need to discuss and that requires support from each other, such as WTO reform and international trade issues."
The US is trying to team up with Japan and the EU to dominate reform of the WTO, which might seriously damage China's interests. The EU is paying close attention to the China-US trade talks, and at the same time desperately wants to seize opportunities from China's economic development, so it is asking China to be more open, Wang Yiwei told the Global Times.
Wang Chao told the press briefing that China expects to cooperate with the European side on issues including climate change, the Iranian nuclear deal, building an open world economy, safeguarding the consensus on multilateralism and boosting coordination and cooperation on agendas like WTO reform and the G20.
Apart from China, no other major non-Western major power or rising economy has the strong intent and ability to cooperate with the EU on these issues and to overcome the challenges together, so China is an irreplaceable partner for the EU, Cui said.
China is also expecting to boost interconnectivity with the EU, Wang Chao noted, which includes injecting new impetus into negotiations of the China-EU investment agreement and strengthening the co-building of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
Wang Yiwei said that due to trade frictions, the US has lost some opportunities to share the benefits of China's opening-up in the next stage, but the EU does not have the same issues with China. Washington's loss is Brussels' gain.
No developed economy or Western power has the EU's ability to actively cooperate with China on so many fields, Cui said. "In cases like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and BRI projects, neither the US nor Japan can have the same participation as the EU."
Regardless of the impact from the US, China and the EU are truly indispensable to each other, and the development of China-EU ties should not rely on an external dynamic from the US, but should find an internal driving force to guide the direction, Cui noted.
A sustainable China-EU relationship needs to rid itself of the impact from Washington, Cui told the Global Times. "If Beijing and Brussels only cooperate when Washington is pulling out away from global governance, then what happens when Washington decides to return some day?"
Wang Yiwei is a senior fellow of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.