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China, EU urged not to shy away from differences

By Martin Banks in Brussels | China Daily | Updated: 2013-12-21 07:54

A leading candidate to become the next president of the European Commission has called on the European Union and China to confront "issues of friction" that currently divide the two sides.

In an interview last week, Martin Schulz, who is currently president of the European Parliament, insisted that China's emergence as a global economic powerhouse is "an opportunity, not a threat".

"Relations could be even healthier," he said, if the differences were addressed squarely.

"EU members have a problem in that, in order to ingratiate themselves with the China, they are keen to sweep issues involving EU-China friction under the carpet.

"This strategy might pay off in the short run, but it is bankrupt in the long run. We need not shy away from confronting our divergences. This is the basis for a relationship based on mutual respect and openness," Shulz said.

Schulz, a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany, has received the support of 21 Socialist parties across Europe. His nomination for commission chief as the Socialist candidate is expected to be rubber-stamped at the pan-European party's electoral congress in Rome on March 1.

Many want the next chief to be appointed from the political group that forms the biggest bloc in the Parliament after May's European elections. The Socialists are expected to perform strongly after their disappointments in 2009.

As someone with the potential to become Europe's most powerful politician, Schulz's thoughts about the EU-China relationship matter, and on this subject he is generally positive.

But Schulz says there is room for improvement: "I think reinforcing international organizations like the WTO or the International Labor Organization is the best way to defuse our trade tensions. The recent agreement in Bali reminds us that this path is possible and must be pursued in the interest of all ... Our divisions make us collectively and individually weaker."

Schulz has been an MEP since 1994.

"I would also like to see a more engaging and responsible foreign policy on the part of China," he said. "I am concerned by the increasing tensions in the neighborhood, especially in the East and South China seas.

"I see China's diplomatic rise not as a threat but as an opportunity. Yet stability can only come from concerted solutions. More can be done to seek compromise in the region.

"I think the Chinese leadership is all too aware that it is in their interest to foster stability and prosperity both within China and in the world. That is why I overwhelmingly see Chinese economic growth as an opportunity."

Turning to his candidacy to succeed Jose Manuel Barroso as commission president, Schulz said the fight against Euro-skepticism and youth unemployment will be among his main platform planks.

He also confirmed that he will seek another term as MEP "exactly because I think that the commission president should be a contender in European elections".

Schulz admits to being worried about the expected influx of MEPs from the far-right after the European elections, but said he intends to confront voters "with the force of arguments and give a clear vision of the Europe I long for".

"The elections might be seen as irrelevant, but they are anything but irrelevant ... These elections will determine the future of the EU for the next five years, and more. The stakes are high.," he said.

For China Daily

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