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By BERNARD DEWIT | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-04-18 07:58
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As the current president of the Council of the European Union, Belgium can play an active role in the development of EU-China relations

It is no secret that the relationship between the European Union and China remains complex and multifaceted. As well as viewing it as a competitor and systemic rival, the EU continues to see China as a partner, and focuses on a de-risking strategy rather than seeking decoupling. It aims to attain strategic independence and greater reciprocity in international relations, holding the belief that trade and investment relations with China are significantly asymmetric. On the other hand, China is seeking to transition away from its traditional economic and social model, and striving for a more balanced path of development. It appears to align with principles of sovereign internationalism and doesn't want to play a zero-sum game, which is a positive sign for a potential rebalancing of EU-China relations.

As one of the world's largest economies and a leading global power, China is a significant economic partner for the EU.With bilateral trade growing rapidly in recent years, it is clear that the EU and China are remaining and will continue to remain important trading partners. They both need each other for different reasons. China needs cooperation with the EU in order to overcome its current economic slowdown, and the EU has a surplus in trade in services and significant foreign direct investment in China, with China also accounting for around 15 percent of the EU's total trade.

The major changes in the world today are accompanied by strong competition in new strategic sectors such as renewable energy and semiconductors. In such a complex, multipolar world, the two major economies should take up a greater role in multilateral coordination.

I believe that promoting greater cooperation would be beneficial for both economies. Both share a common interest in safeguarding free trade and forward-looking investments in research into future technologies. For instance, there are plenty of possibilities to cooperate in areas such as logistics and biopharma, two strong points of the Belgian economy, as well as to explore new areas for growth in sectors such as renewable energy and the digital economy.

People-to-people contacts are also indispensable in this regard. Belgian universities should be willing to strengthen student exchanges with China, as the young generation can play a crucial role in the future of bilateral relations. With the re-opening of China's borders after the COVID-19 pandemic, travel between the two sides has received a much-needed boost and will enable people to experience each other's culture again.

In this context, the official high-level visit of Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib in January 2024 was a positive sign.

Prime Minister De Croo noted that Belgium will continue its candid dialogue with China to deepen common understanding and will push for continuous development of bilateral relations in political, economic and other fields. Belgium will also oppose decoupling of the industry and supply chains and hopes to strengthen personnel and cultural exchanges with China. In this regard, Belgium is willing to play an active role in the development of EU-China relations as the current president of the EU.

As Chairman of the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, I welcome China's recent decision to expand its visa-free policy to include Belgium as well. This is one of the positive concrete results that have emerged out of the two top Belgian officials' visit to China.

The visa exemption policy is a great sign for the future positive development of Belgian-Chinese bilateral relations, and could help to foster closer cooperation. It highlights China's confidence and readiness to further open its borders, and will hopefully result in an influx of EU tourists into China and more people-to-people exchanges. These are very important in today's complex geopolitical climate. For the businesspeople here, eliminating visa applications will also simplify undertaking short business trips to China.

On Dec 7, 2023, the 24th EU-China Summit took place in Beijing, where President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Qiang. Some new working groups on common issues of interest such as financial regulation have been created as well.

As for the future of Belgium-China relations, I hope that the recent visit of De Croo and Lahbib to China and China's visa exemption for Belgium signify a broader trend of enhanced cooperation and mutual trust in the future. In times of increasing international uncertainties, punitive measures from one or the other side could result in tit-for-tat measures and further calls for decoupling. Let us not focus on economic confrontation, but rather on areas of cooperation and common dialogue.

The author is chairman of the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce and senior partner of Dewit Law Office. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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