Right time for EU to transform words into action
Pascale Delcomminette, CEO of Belgium's Walloon Export and Foreign Investment Agency, said in a recent interview that an added advantage of her country's competitiveness is the ability to attract foreign investment. "We are a member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank," she said with pride in her voice ahead of Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Germany and Belgium from Wednesday to Friday, while highlighting her country' gateway position, mature market, openness and other merits.
While almost all Western European countries followed the United Kingdom in early 2015 in applying to become the founding members of the China-proposed AIIB, Belgium chose not to; it became a member of the new multilateral financial vehicle only in 2017.
Delcomminette wisely cited the AIIB membership as part of Belgium's competitiveness.
And she is not alone in the developed world with such an opinion. Delcomminette's observation enriched my portfolio of findings on how the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative would benefit Europe, following my recent intensive talks with officials and business leaders in Central and Eastern Europe and in the Mediterranean region. Two points are especially important in this context. Many believe the Belt and Road Initiative has helped them better understand long-term national prosperity and development. They now know national prosperity and development can be achieved by reducing the development gap with Western Europe.
Specifically speaking, they can exploit their countries' geographical and regional advantages by highlighting their closer connectivity to Asia, Europe and Africa.
Therefore, the whole of Europe, both the developed and developing parts, can gain from the colossal game-changing economic development project initiated by China. This is an example of how China is contributing to the global public goods supply chain, and helping shape better and fairer governance dynamics as it further integrates into the global production and investment chain.
Most Europeans have accepted these changes.
There will be new narratives and dialogue contexts at the China-EU leaders' meeting which Premier Li will attend along with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Thursday and Friday. However, to what degree EU leaders recognize this changing paradigm of the world and reflect its member states' collective willingness will determine the outcome of this important meeting, held after the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, the EU-US leaders meeting and the NATO summit in Brussels, and G7 summit in Sicily, Italy.
What's more, examining how the EU has handled its relations with Beijing since last annual leaders' meeting will not allow us much relief. The EU, which globally advocates free trade, has failed to fulfill its commitment to China when the latter joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. The EU has tightened approval procedures for China's outward investment in recent times, though many of the bloc's member states want it. It has also imposed punitive tariffs on China's exports.
European leaders are still dividing the world into "West and East", while China advocates "the shared destiny of humanity". For example, when meeting US President Donald Trump, Tusk said he aimed to work with Trump to protect the interests and values of the "free world". That was a highly suggestive statement from the chief of an organization that is supposed to guide the EU in the right political direction. And a few months ago, in one of his speeches, Tusk even called China a threat.
Tusk's statements show the EU leadership has not fully accepted China as a strategic partner, although it aims to strengthen the EU-China partnership according to a statement on the bloc's website that China welcomes.
But only concrete actions count.
And this is the right time for the EU to seize the "historic momentum" to turn words into action, because its member states are eager to engage China in European policies on various fronts.
The author is deputy chief of China Daily European Bureau. firstname.lastname@example.org