Source:Global Times Published: 2020-5-18
GT: Many believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has made the EU become more vigilant against China. For example, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said on May 3 that Europe has been "a little naive" in dealing with China and that it will take a more pragmatic approach. Many also regard China as a "systemic rival." How will such statements affect Europe's overall position on China?
Türk: The COVID 19 pandemic has caused serious economic and social disruptions in Europe and they have to be addressed at home. Therefore, right now the EU is understandably focusing on its internal questions. They include both coordination of policies of its member states and development of financial and other mechanisms at the level of the Union to overcome the recession. There is not much deep thinking about the future of EU-China relations, but sooner rather than later these relations will take a central place. Both sides have a number of established priorities and the expected global recession will make their mutual cooperation even more important. Describing China as a "systemic rival" is unhelpful. This is the kind of ideological jargon that should be avoided. Instead, both sides should take a pragmatic approach. They should take a deep look into the needs for global cooperation to overcome the COVID-19 crisis and its consequences. In addition, there is an existing list of practical questions of EU-China relations to be looked at. They include market access and investment cooperation, development of technology and protection of intellectual property and, above all, cooperation to mitigate the effects of climate change. The future EU-China cooperation will be of critical importance for the sustainable, green development of our planet. The EU-China summit, scheduled to take place in September this year, should be prepared well and carried out in the spirit of mutual respect and mutual advantage.
GT: You once said that "certain politicians continue to blame others for problems that have occurred under their rule, which is irresponsible and cannot solve any problem." Could you please further elaborate on this view?
Türk: As you know, this is particularly the case in the US. Statements of President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that attempted to put all the blame on China were the most obvious examples. This kind of rhetoric reflects the election year posturing and an eagerness to shift attention away from the US administration's mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis. There was very little following to this kind of rhetoric outside the US. Responsible political leaders would think twice about the tactic of blaming others for their own mistakes. Such a tactic can backfire at home and harm the credibility of these leaders abroad.
GT: EU industry chief Thierry Breton once said that he does not see any ulterior motive behind Chinese companies' donations of face masks to the bloc and that solidarity is the best way to tackle the global novel coronavirus outbreak. How would you evaluate China's COVID-19 fight and its contribution to the world?
Türk: I agree that genuine solidarity was an important motive for the Chinese companies and other actors who offered help. In addition, it is normal that a country offering help expects to boost its prestige as a result of quick and effective assistance to the countries in need. More generally, China's COVID-19 fight offered important lessons for the world. China demonstrated strong resolve and effectiveness in dealing with the COVID-19 since mid-January. As the world was watching the action in Wuhan and Hubei in late January and early February, it appeared that the disease would be stopped there. Many foreign observers believed - contrary to the warnings that the World Health Organization (WHO) made in January and February - that the disease would stay in Hubei province or, essentially, in East Asia. It was the outbreak in Italy in the second half of February and in March that shook Europe and the world. In March and April the needs for protective gear exploded and China was ready to help. I saw no ulterior motives in the Chinese assistance. My main conclusion is that the whole world has to prepare better for the possible outbreaks of infectious diseases that might happen in the future.
GT: In terms of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chinese and EU leaders have held telephone conversations to exchange views and increase cooperation. Could you predict China-EU relations in the post-pandemic era?
Türk: This is indeed an important year for China-EU relations and this is not only because of COVID-19. The pandemic has only accelerated the processes of change that were there before. The type of globalization that has been dominating the last three decades is coming to its end and we must expect more competition. The tensions between the US and China have deepened. Globalization will continue but will likely be more fragmented. The basic difficulty seems to be how to balance the expected competition in all fields of international relations and the need for closer cooperation among the main global players. China and the EU are among the key global players and bear great responsibility for the future. Processes of competition and cooperation have to be managed simultaneously. That will be a complex task requiring a great deal of pragmatism and restraint. We are seeing the rise of dangerous ideologies such as nationalism already and they should not be allowed to prevail. The EU will have to demonstrate its ability to work as a pragmatic and unified player who understands the historic opportunities of its future relations with China. For China, too, this will be the time to define its policies with a good sense of future partnerships, including with the EU. The EU and China have many reasons to strengthen their cooperation precisely at this time and to base it on such principles as mutual respect, reciprocity and mutual advantage.
GT: WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has warned that "this virus will be with us for a long time" and he has repeatedly called for international cooperation. Since the US is almost absent in this global COVID-19 fight, how can China and the EU put their differences aside and work together to help the world overcome the challenge?
Türk: This warning must be taken seriously. There are many viruses for which we have no vaccine or which, such as the flu virus, mutate constantly, so that we need a new vaccine every year. Right now it is not clear whether and when there will be an effective vaccine against the novel coronavirus and how effective the therapeutical methods will be. The knowledge about the virus is still not sufficient for a clear prescription about the future. All this calls for better global cooperation. Right now we see a great deal of competition in the search for a vaccine. And again, as in general in our era, we need better and simultaneous management of the ongoing competition and the needed cooperation. The EU has initiated a pledge event earlier this month that raised about 7.5 billion euros ($8 billion) for the financing of vaccine research and subsequent production and distribution to help all parts of the world. China participated in that effort but the US, regrettably, did not. It will be important for China and the EU to expand cooperation and use the experiences of the past months for common good. Let us not forget: Protection against infectious diseases is a global common good.
Danilo Türk is president of Slovenia from 2007 to 2012, is the president of the World Leadership Alliance－Club de Madrid, an organization of former presidents and prime ministers. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.