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Virtual summit a shot in the arm for China-EU ties

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2021-07-09 08:34
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An attendant walks past EU and China flags ahead of the EU-China High-level Economic Dialogue at Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, on June 25, 2018. [Photo/Agencies]

President Xi Jinping's summit with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, via video link, on Monday came at the right time to put China-EU relations back on the right track.

The relationship between China and the European Union got a shot in the arm last year through several virtual summits between the two sides, and the conclusion of the negotiations on the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment after seven long years.

However, relations have not progressed smoothly since EU leaders described China as a "cooperation partner, economic competitor and systemic rival" in March 2019 despite the launch of the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership in 2003.

The heightened EU scrutiny of Chinese investments over the last few years, especially in the technology sector, and its policy on Huawei's 5G technology, mimic the United States' reckless strategy against China.

It happened at a time when the EU economy, hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, badly needed a boost for its recovery. The fact that China became the EU's largest trade partner in goods for the first time last year is good news, though, and suggests the two sides will not squander the chance of deepening win-win cooperation.

EU businesses which have a strong presence in China are bullish about the Chinese market as reflected in the EU Chamber of Commerce in China's survey released on June 8. Three out of four respondents to the survey earned a profit in 2020 despite the effects of the pandemic, and 68 percent of them said they are optimistic about future growth, with only 9 percent saying they are considering shifting their current or planned investment out of China, the lowest on record.

Business communities on both sides look forward to the early ratification of the CAI. The EU Chamber of Commerce in China said in May that it was frustrated to see some European Parliament members trying to halt the ratification process of the China-EU investment agreement.

In a statement, the chamber urged the EU and China to deepen their engagement wherever possible, saying that diplomatic setbacks should be compartmentalized, so as to not hurt mutual interests and cooperation, which it said included climate change, biodiversity, international development, World Trade Organization reform, setting international standards and alignment on digitalization.

The virtual summit on Monday focused on many such key bilateral and global issues that China and the EU can and should cooperate in.

Chinese and EU companies do compete in the marketplace, but that is important for the healthy development of all companies, irrespective of whether their countries of origin are security allies or not. The growing trade and investment ties between China and the EU show that their economic relations are more that of cooperation partners than competitors as defined by the EU.

For example, China could be an able partner of the EU in the ambitious digital and green "revolution" plan laid out by European Commission leaders.

China does not agree with the "systemic rival" notion either, arguing it is not exporting its political system nor attaching political strings for economic cooperation. Instead, China has been practising a policy of non-interference in other countries' domestic affairs.

China and the EU member states have different political systems and different priorities on issues such as human rights and rule of law. That is nothing new. And engaging with each other in talks, instead of pointing fingers or imposing sanctions on each other, is a more effective way of improving mutual understanding and resolving differences.

Deepening cooperation in areas such as climate change, biodiversity, pandemic response, vaccine distribution, global trade and investment deals, and cooperation in Africa will benefit not only China and the EU but also the rest of the world. It will also help them build mutual trust and narrow their differences.

The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.

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