By Wang Wen Source: ISPI Published: 2019-4-8
At present, China and Europe are facing similar global challenges: protectionism, populism, separatism, terrorism, and unilateralism. Global stability and the international order are suffering from the greatest threats since World War II. If we can maintain our national interests despite instability and continue world peace, China and Europe could play an indispensable international role.
Under the common global threat, both China and Europe have common interests and demands.
Since the end of the Cold War, Europe has participated in many wars, some of which were necessary, such as the war on terrorism and the first war in Iraq in 1991; some are unnecessary, such as the Libyan war and the Syrian conflict. Whether Europe can benefit from every war is a controversial topic. But in the long run, especially in the 21st century, no war will really benefit Europe. In recent years, the refugee crisis and the splitting of values that have impacted on Europe have proved that. How to create a longer-lasting peace, both within Europe and within the international system is very important for Europe. China is also facing the temptation of war, the divergence of the South China Sea, the Sino-Indian border friction, and many international public opinions are speculating that a limited foreign war is an indispensable option in the process of China's rise. It now appears that China was using traditional wisdom to evade the temptation of force.
Since the international financial crisis in 2008, Europe has fallen into the trap of low growth, and some countries have also experienced a serious debt crisis. In order to spur economic growth and create more employment, Europe needs better economic reforms and structural adjustments. China has actively adjusted its economic growth rate since 2012, from the average 11% growth in the previous decade to 7% in the past six years. It hopes to promote structural transformation and industrial upgrading, with the aim of preventing and controlling global warming, preventing risks and comprehensively reducing poverty, to pursue high quality development. China is also under pressure to maintain sustainable growth.
The global technological revolution is in the ascendant, including artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, biotechnology, the energy revolution, etc. They are profoundly changing human society, bringing unprecedented convenience to the daily lives of people of all countries, and bringing new challenges to global and national social governance. Both China and Europe are catching the wave of science and technology, avoiding being eliminated in the technological revolution and being left behind. They are both investing more in research and development. There should be more institutional and management innovation.
From these perspectives, there is a huge space for cooperation between China and Europe.
China and Europe are each other's natural partners. This is not only because we have common interests and common goals, but also because there is no global strategic or structural contradiction between China and Europe. This feature effectively minimizes friction and conflict in the process of Sino-European interactions. The characteristics of great common interests and no strategic contradictions have also laid a solid foundation for China and Europe to further transcend the barriers of ideology and broaden and deepen pragmatic cooperation.
It is no exaggeration to say that if Europe can break the ideological framework, face up to China's development achievements and the benefits of China-EU economic and trade cooperation, it should recognize China's market economy status; at the same time, China will also increase investments in Europe and its imports of products and services from Europe. Then the economic and strategic link between China and Europe will inevitably take a new step on the existing basis.
Europe is an important partner in the construction of the BRI. In the past six years, the BRI cooperation between China and the EU has achieved fruitful results in terms of policy communication, facility connectivity, trade smoothness, capital finance, and people's minds.
The future space for cooperation is even more extensive. Since the BRI was proposed, Europe has generally maintained a more positive and welcoming attitude. For example, among the founding members of the AIIB, there are 18 European countries. Among them, the United Kingdom is the first Western country to join the AIIB. The first BRI international cooperation summit held in Beijing in 2017 attracted 29 heads of state and government. Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, Swiss Federal President Doris Leuthard, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and others were all from European countries.
Of course, within Europe, different countries have different levels of welcome for the BRI because of their different levels of social and economic development and the direction of national development. For example, the economic development level of Central and Eastern European countries is relatively weak within Europe. Therefore, they are the most active in participating in the BRI, hoping to attract Chinese investment, and especially to obtain policy loan support from the AIIB and other institutions, and expand exports to China at the same time.
In addition, countries in southern Europe and southwestern Europe are full of confidence about opening up the Chinese market. They are highly competitive in the fields of green food, and hope to further open up the Chinese market and export more green agricultural products such as olive oil, dairy products and wine, etc. At the same time, they will also use their countries’ unique natural scenery and cultural traditions to leverage the Chinese tourism market and attract more Chinese tourists to southern Europe and southwestern Europe.
In comparison, Western European countries with more developed economies seem to have reservations about the “Belt and Road”. They are very interested in pragmatic policy tools under the “Belt and Road” framework. For example, the United Kingdom and other countries have made it clear that they hope to use the AIIB to supplement a lack of funds for infrastructure construction. However, perhaps because of ideological considerations, they are somewhat cautious about the concept of "human destiny community", the openness and tolerance advocated by China in proposing the "Belt and Road". They even fear that the "Belt and Road" will become Chinese tools and threats to "export" values to Europe.
In fact, these concerns are not necessary. The strongholds of Western Europe, such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and France, which hold such views, are precisely in the high-end manufacturing sector, such as automobile manufacturing, aerospace, nuclear power, etc., and these products are on the Chinese market, which is in the stage of consumption upgrading. Their technology is also in urgent need of Chinese companies that are in the process of industrial upgrading.
It can be seen that whether it is to meet the longing for a better life of 1.4 billion people, or in many fields such as technical exchange and joint research and development, China and developed Western European countries both have the characteristics of mutual attraction and common development. As long as we can break the bottleneck of ideology, and don’t hang on to the clichés left over from the Cold War, China and all European countries can find a point of convergence and cooperation in different fields and industries to meet the fundamental interests of both peoples.
At this point, it is very important to increase cultural exchanges between China and Europe. Some European public opinions have criticized the Chinese political system and Confucius Institutes, albeit this may be from misunderstandings or prejudice, which should have more balanced views; China should also introduce more European films, novels and other cultural works.
In summary, China sincerely hopes that Europe will be strong, gain development and be peaceful. Chinese never thinks that Europe is a threat; on the contrary, the more prosperous, stable and united Europe is, the more it is in China's interests.
From the central government to think tanks, China has clearly opposed "bad-mouthing" Europe. In the face of irresponsible reporting by some media in the world, such as deliberately exaggerating the temporary difficulties facing Europe, or “predicting” the “end of the EU” without any factual basis, the Chinese government and enterprises are never confused and at their mercy. Instead, they use their own vision and perspective to observe Europe independently and in good faith, and have confidence in this great civilization and its intelligent and brave people.
Therefore, I hope that Europe can observe and understand China with the same vision and wisdom, and join hands to break the clichés of "demonized China" and "weak Europe"deliberately rendered by a few international media. When two equally great and long-lived civilizations at both ends of Eurasia join hands, it will be a better world tomorrow.
The author is Executive Dean of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. The article was issued by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI), a top-level European think tank specialized in international affairs.