China, EU can improve ties if they focus on cooperation
Zhang Ming, China's new ambassador to the European Union arrived in Brussels in early October. One month later, after European Council President Donald Tusk received his credentials, Zhang officially began his diplomatic mission in Brussels.
Since then, Zhang, a veteran diplomat who has been in charge of the Middle East and African affairs for years, has embarked on full-speed diplomacy. He has spent most of his time paying "courtesy calls" on EU officials. And after about 30 working days by Christmas break, Zhang's efforts seem to be paying results.
Apart from Tusk, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, European Commission Vice-President Jyrki Katainen and EU foreign chief Federica Mogherini, Zhang has also met with other top EU leaders. And in the hope of deepening Sino-EU relations, the EU leaders have recalled their "very good personal relationship" with the Chinese leadership.
The European Commission, the EU's executive arm, consists of 28 commissioners from the 28 EU member states, and Zhang has met about half of them. Stressing that he intends to meet the rest of them soon, Zhang said the essence of diplomacy is engaging with leaders to deepen friendship.
Moreover, Zhang's activities have not been restricted to just visiting EU officials, as he has also endeavored to make friends in business, academia, media and other circles.
Zhang arrived in Brussels at a time when the EU was deeply engrossed in dealing with multiple challenges, from Brexit, immigration, security to geopolitical and trans-Atlantic issues. By taking time off from their tight schedule, EU officials have shown "collective courtesy" toward Zhang, sending a strong signal that they want to boost relations with China. This is highly encouraging as both sides are planning their future diplomatic agenda with the year 2018 approaching.
Besides China's proactive diplomatic approach, Zhang is also inspired by the hospitality accorded to him by the EU officials. At his meetings with the EU officials, Zhang has told them that he will spend 80 percent of his time and energy in deepening cooperation between Beijing and Brussels and the rest on managing their differences. The ratio cited by Zhang largely reflects the state of China-EU relations. Despite being two of the world's leading economic powers, the two sides have no major fundamental conflicts. Instead, they have a lot in common when it comes to maintaining world peace, and promoting regional development and a fairer global governance system by strengthening free trade and globalization.
The EU does have "differences" with China on some issues, though. But that is normal between two major economies. Even when trade and economic relations between the EU and the United States were at their peak, the two sides didn't see eye to eye on many issues.
But unfortunately, the differences between the EU and China have been exaggerated by the Western media, lobbying groups and conservative officials. Such irresponsible approach to Sino-EU ties is harmful, as it prevents the public on both sides from seeing the "full and true picture" of their relationship. If they receive the wrong message, tourists, investors and students from one side will hesitate to visit, invest and study in the other side's territory, which is not helpful in deepening relations between the two sides.
To forge better relations, a closer and cooperative Sino-EU strategic partnership is necessary, as it is boosts the confidence of potential travelers, investors and students on both sides to take the plunge.
Indeed, the EU institutions have a lot of work to do. In 2018, a new breakthrough between China and the EU will be achieved if they turn their diplomatic courtesy into real actions by following Zhang's formula of focusing on cooperation.
The author is deputy chief of China Daily European Bureau.