EU leaders should also heed China's needs when they come with their wish lists to ensure mutually beneficial cooperation
German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to pay a formal visit to China in early February, just as China has entered the Year of the Dragon. Soon after that, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso will visit China together to attend the postponed 14th China-EU Summit.
As a Chinese saying goes, one does not visit the temple for nothing. Public media home and abroad are speculating profusely on the purposes of these visits by European leaders. Obviously, the European leaders, being the first group of important Western visitors to China in the Year of the Dragon, are not here just to say Happy New Year. In their briefcases, as some predict, there will be a long list of demands which they will present to the Chinese side.
Indeed, never before has Europe been in greater need of China's help. In the past year, the Europe Union has been beset with a festering sovereign debt crisis. More recently, thanks to a series of measures, that debt crisis seems to be less disruptive, though the problem is far from over. Uncertainty abounds. In the first half of the year, Italy, Spain and some other countries will face a debt peak and mounting difficulties in debt financing. Not long ago, France and Austria lost their triple-A ratings. Europe must fight an uphill battle to find new growth poles, achieve economic recovery and realize full employment.
It is not surprising, therefore, that a struggling Europe has cast its eyes on China. At the just concluded Davos Forum, there was a discussion topic named "putting China's trillions to work". Merkel, and many European leaders, attended the forum. According to European media, if China pledged to keep buying European bonds, this would give the eurozone an important lifeline. Europe also hoped to see more Chinese investment to help create jobs and boost economic growth.
In fact, China has never stopped giving Europe help when it was in difficulties. The greatest help China gives to Europe is its political support. While a lot of countries and institutions were talking down Europe, China did not join the chorus, but rather "lonely" conveyed its confidence in the euro and the European integration. At such a critical juncture, confidence in Europe is more valuable than gold.
China's support of Europe is not lip service. Trade between China and Europe in 2011 reached a record of $500 billion. While remaining China's largest trading partner, the EU is China's largest source of imports. According to EU statistics, in the first three quarters of last year, EU export to China grew nearly 7 percentage points faster than its overall exports. According to media reports, China has significantly increased its investment in Europe through mergers and other means.
Supporting Europe not only reflects the true meaning of the China-Europe Comprehensive Strategic Partnership but also gives expression to the traditional Chinese way of treating others. The Chinese people value friendships forged in times of adversity and believe that a friend in need is a friend indeed. When a friend or partner needs us, it is quite natural for us to lend a helping hand. When China was hit by the catastrophic earthquake in Wenchuan and after other natural disasters many European countries came to our aid immediately. And if the EU can overcome the crisis quickly, it will help China's economy stay healthy and keep growing.
We hope to see the continued development of the mutually beneficial cooperation between China and Europe. When visiting China, European leaders should not just bring with them a list of demands for China, but think what China may need of them, what support Europe can give to China and what they can do for the long-term stability and development of China-Europe relations.
If European demands for China are mostly in economic terms, Chinese hopes of Europe are mainly political, namely, mutual respect and treating each other as equals. To date, the European Union has kept up its arms embargo against China which smacks of the Cold War mentality. China has become the world's second largest economy and its socialist market economy has achieved great success. But the EU is still reluctant to recognize China's market economy status. While expressing welcome to more Chinese investment in Europe, the EU sits tight watching public opinion politicize such investment. "China is an economic threat" is quite popular in the EU. Chinese enterprises willing to invest in Europe must still tackle numerous difficulties and obstacles.
Some in China suggest that we link these problems with continued Chinese support to Europe. But this is not the mainstream opinion, and few expect these problems to be solved quickly. However, sustained development of China-Europe relations need the support of both peoples. European leaders should make good use of every opportunity to explain the relevant EU policies to the Chinese people.
After all, what kind of image does the EU want to build in the hearts and minds of the Chinese people? Is it an EU that asks for help while acting superior? Or an EU that is committed to mutual benefit, win-win and common development with China? We hope that European leaders can display vision and give us a convincing answer. Let's wait and see.
The author is a Beijing-based scholar of international relations.
(China Daily 02/02/2012 page8)