Enhancing Mutual Trust and Cooperation
To Embrace an Even Better Future of China-EU Relations
Speech by H.E. Wang Yi
State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs
Of the People’s Republic of China
At the “Sixty-Minute Briefing” Event of the European Policy Center
Brussels, 16 December 2019
President Herman Van Rompuy,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It gives me great pleasure to come back to Brussels, the heart of Europe, and share some thoughts with friends both old and new.
The year 2019, which is drawing to a close, has been a productive year for China-EU relations. We concluded negotiations on the Geographical Indications (GI) agreement as scheduled, and signed two agreements on aviation cooperation. We made good progress in enhancing the complementarity between the Belt and Road Initiative and the EU’s Strategy on Connecting Europe and Asia.
We reached extensive consensus on major issues from strengthening global governance, upholding multilateralism to defending free trade. Together, we delivered a clear message to the world that China and the EU are working together to uphold the international order and tackle global challenges.
Following the official inauguration of the new EU leadership earlier this month, President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have had separate phone calls with President Charles Michel and President Ursula von der Leyen. The two sides agreed to further deepen China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership, signaling a smooth transition of China-EU relations.
To ensure the steady progress of China-EU relations, we need to, first and foremost, get mutual perceptions right and keep enhancing mutual understanding and trust.
As far as China is concerned, our views of Europe have always been positive and constructive. We see Europe as an important cooperation partner and a priority on our diplomatic agenda. We believe that Europe is an important pole in this multi-polar world, and a prosperous and stable Europe is a contributor to the development and progress of humankind.
Proceeding from such a perception, China has been firm and steadfast in supporting European integration, supporting a united and strong European Union and supporting a bigger role for Europe in international affairs.
As for Europe, over the years, European countries and the EU as an organization have by and large followed a positive China policy, and worked with China to promote cooperation in all fields. That said, to be candid, there have also been divergent views about China in Europe, which are mainly reflected in the following three questions. Failure to address these perception issues may cause unnecessary disruptions to the future of China-EU relations.
Question No. 1: Is China a developing or developed country?
In recent years, due to the rapid growth of the Chinese economy, some friends in Europe tend to see China as already joining the ranks of developed countries and they started to judge China by the corresponding standards. Some even go so far as to demand reciprocity at every turn. Let me draw an analogy with a 100-meter race. An early starter, who is already 50 meters ahead, asks to have a fair race with his fellow contestant, who is still standing at the starting line. Apparently, such a demand does not make any sense. Naturally, if it’s in a much longer marathon, then the late-comer may stand a chance of catching up by running really fast.
Let me draw your attention to some facts. China indeed remains a developing country. Although China is now the second largest economy in the world, our per capita GDP is only one sixth that of the US, and one fourth that of the EU. China ranks below the 80th place in the Human Development Index, and lags far behind developed countries in science, technology and education. Unbalanced and inadequate development remains a prominent challenge for China, and industrialization is yet to be completed. Therefore, it would be “irreciprocal” in effect to ask for reciprocity between a country that has been developing for only several decades and countries that have developed for centuries.
In this connection, allow me to quote from an ancient Chinese poem, “It’s a mountain range viewed in face and peaks viewed from one side, assuming different shapes viewed from far and wide.” This poetical line essentially means that things observed from different angles will lead to different conclusions. When an objective perspective of developing countries is applied, what we will see is an impressive picture of China’s achievements.
China has not only achieved tremendous progress in its own development, but also made far bigger contributions to the world than many other countries. Take the economy as an example, China has contributed more than 30 percent to global growth for over ten consecutive years, serving as the leading engine of the world economy.
In terms of opening up, China has more than fulfilled its WTO commitments, and reduced the average tariff rate to 7.5 percent, exceeding all other major developing countries and approaching the level of developed countries. On the ease of doing business, China’s position in the World Bank rankings has jumped to the 31st place, up by 47 spots in the past two years, making it the best-performing economy in the improvement of its business environment.
On emission reduction and environmental protection, China has contributed over 25 percent to the increase in the world’s afforested area in the past 20 years. In 2018, China reduced its carbon intensity by 45.8 per cent over the 2005 level, meeting its international commitments ahead of schedule.
On international cooperation, China is now the second largest contributor to the UN’s regular budget and peacekeeping assessment and the largest contributor of peacekeepers among the five permanent members of the Security Council.
Why shouldn’t such a major developing country, one that is growing with strong momentum and making increasingly greater contributions to human progress, be welcomed and appreciated by Europe and the international community?
Question No. 2: Is China a partner or a rival?
In recent years, we have heard an argument suggesting that China has become a rival of Europe in the economic field and should be subjected to all sorts of restrictions. Although not the mainstream view, we must raise our vigilance and not allow it to go unchecked. In fact, any cool-headed person with an objective view will see that, for China and the EU, cooperation far outweighs competition, and our areas of consensus far exceed differences. We are partners, not rivals.
Over the years, Europe has benefited tremendously from cooperation with China. Between 2001 and 2018, the EU’s exports to China grew by 14.7 percent on average each year, more than twice the EU’s average export growth, supporting about four million local jobs. Investment of Chinese companies in the EU has also been growing. As of the end of 2017, Chinese companies have set up over 2,900 ventures in EU countries through direct investment, creating 176,000 jobs for the local people. Acquisition of Volvo by China’s automaker Geely injected new energy to the Volvo factory in Ghent, Belgium, retaining and creating over 6,000 jobs. China is now the most profitable market for European companies. As many as 7 million cars, or nearly a quarter of all automobiles sold in China, are produced by European auto-makers.
Even with rising trade friction between China and the US and mounting downward pressure on the global economy, economic and trade cooperation between China and the EU has bucked the trend and kept growing. In the first 11 months of this year, trade between China and the EU was estimated to grow by 7.7 percent from last year. From January to July, EU investment in China was up by 18.3 percent year on year. Sixty percent of EU companies regard China as a leading destination of investment.
I would also like to underscore today that even with various factors at play, China, as a major developing country with 1.4 billion people, a 900-million-strong labor force and 120 million market entities, has solid internal growth momentum, great resilience and enormous economic potential. China is bound to offer a new round of cooperation opportunities and share the development dividend with countries in Europe.
In its cooperation with Europe, China has always respected Europe’s concerns. Take China-CEEC cooperation. We advocate the idea of openness, transparency and inclusiveness and uphold the principle of equality, mutual benefit and win-win results. Such cooperation follows market rules and EU standards and contributes to the unity and stability of the EU as a whole. It has been shown time and again that mutually beneficial cooperation between China and CEE countries is a useful supplement to China-EU relations and conducive to balanced development and the integration process in Europe.
Question No. 3: Is China a friend for harmonious coexistence or a threat in a zero-sum game?
China and the EU do have different social systems, development paths, values and concepts. Yet such differences should not become obstacles in our exchanges and cooperation. Still less should they justify taking the other as a threat, interfering in others’ affairs or even seeking to remold others in one’s own image. As a well-known saying in Europe goes, “All roads lead to Rome.” Confucius said something similar 2,500 years ago, “All living things should grow in harmony without hurting one another; and all the ways should move forward without interfering with one another.” The world we live in is a diverse and colorful place. Every country is entitled to choose a development path tailored to their own national conditions.
China respects Europe and appreciates your achievements. We never interfere in Europe’s internal affairs. Likewise, we hope Europe will also respect China and appreciate the choices made by the Chinese people. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of New China. In the past several decades, we have completed a journey that took developed countries one hundred years or even centuries to accomplish.
We have made it because we have found a path of socialism with Chinese characteristics under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. It is a path to development, to success, to peace and to win-win results. While accelerating our own development, we have also contributed to the common development of our cooperation partners. As President Herman Van Rompuy aptly put it, “Direction is more important than speed.” Since the direction is right, why should China change course? Since it serves everyone’s interests, why should China be remolded?
Take human rights as another example. It is the people of a country that have the biggest say in the quality of human rights there. The true value of the universality of human rights can only be realized when it is applied in the context of specific needs of different countries. Over the past seven decades since the founding of New China, our country has made historic progress in its human rights cause. We have lifted 850 million people out of poverty, contributing over 70 percent to global progress in poverty reduction, and attained Goal One in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development ten years ahead of schedule. Next year, for the first time in history, China will eradicate absolute poverty throughout the country.
China has provided jobs for 770 million of its people. It has met the basic needs of 250 million elderly people, 85 million people with disabilities and over 60 million urban and rural residents living on subsistence allowance. In this process, China has built the world’s biggest systems of education, social security, medical care and institutions of democracy at the primary level. In China, there are 850 million Internet users and over one billion users of the new media. Every Chinese enjoys freedom of speech as provided for by the Constitution. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, in 2019 China tops the global rankings in the level of satisfaction with government performance, with over 86 percent of the Chinese surveyed expressing satisfaction, way above the global median of 47 percent.
The forming of unbiased and balanced mutual perceptions would pave the way for stronger and more steady growth of China-EU relations. What then follows should be concerted, focused efforts by both sides to advance cooperation to the best of our ability.
First, we need to enhance synergy of our respective strengths to expedite development and rejuvenation of both sides. The on-going negotiations on the China-EU investment agreement top our economic agenda. China is building an open economy. We welcome European countries to seize the opportunities to scale up investment in China and explore this huge market of 1.4 billion people.
We also hope that the EU will keep to the principles of market economy and create a level playing field for Chinese enterprises, not least by upholding fairness and justice and making well-informed and independent judgment on 5G issues. China is pursuing high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative. The EU is speeding up the implementation of its strategy on connecting Europe and Asia. By increasing the link-ups between these endeavors, we will break new ground and unlock new potential for cooperation.
China and the EU should be partners for green development. The new European Commission has launched its “European Green Deal”, while China is gearing up to advance its ecosystem conservation. Green growth, circular economy and renewable energy can well be new growth areas of China-Europe cooperation.
China and the EU should be partners for digital development. We have respective strengths in high technology, digital economy and the new generation of information technology. Much can be done if we combine our strengths and work together on smart cities, AI, data security and technological rules and standards.
China and the EU should be partners for free trade. Apart from a high-quality investment agreement, we should work for an early start of negotiations on a free trade agreement, or at least the launch of feasibility studies on that front.
Second, we need to defend multilateralism and strengthen strategic communication and cooperation. Multilateralism and free trade are areas of common language between China and the EU, and represent an important underpinning force for world peace and development. In contrast, unilateralism and protectionism deviate from the trend of global development, run counter to norms and rules governing international relations, and cause disruptions to the global governance system. As two major players in our world, China and the EU can neither sit idly by nor stay immune to these trends. We must stand hand-in-hand on the right side of history and on the side of the common aspirations of the majority of countries, fulfill our due responsibilities and play our due role.
As for what multilateralism stands for in the context of our times, China believes that multilateralism should have win-win cooperation as the goal, equity and justice as the tenet, and be action-oriented. It should aim to firmly uphold the international system centered on the United Nations, the international order based on international law, and the multilateral trading system underpinned by the WTO.
We need to take economic globalization in the direction of more open, inclusive, balanced and mutually beneficial development, to enable people of all countries, social strata and communities to enjoy greater well-being and share in the opportunities.
Third, we need to improve global governance and jointly tackle challenges. Given the governance deficit, peace deficit and development deficit in our world, there is a pressing need to strengthen and improve global governance. China believes that guided by a strong commitment to multilateralism, countries should make active efforts to advance the rule of law and democratization of global governance. A vision of common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security should be embraced, and the Cold War mentality of zero-sum games rejected. Disputes should be settled through dialogue and consultation, not arbitrary use or threat of force. China and the EU need to carry out more strategic cooperation on counterterrorism, deradicalization and the political settlement of international flash-points.
Climate change is one of the foremost global challenges of our times. It is also a big highlight of China-EU cooperation. The new EU leadership has identified climate change as a top priority, which can be seen in the adoption by the European Commission last week of an ambitious plan to achieve climate neutrality. China will host the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity next year. We will take this opportunity to advance global ecological progress and build a shared future for all life on earth with all parties. China and the EU need to step up coordination and cooperation in this area to enhance mutual understanding and promote the full and effective implementation of the Paris Agreement. Let us work together to realize low-carbon and sustainable development and leave a world of clear rivers, green mountains and blue skies to our future generations.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
The upcoming 45th anniversary of China-EU diplomatic ties next year will present new opportunities for the further development of our relations. We need to draw an ambitious blueprint for China-EU cooperation and take China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership to a new level.
Let me now conclude with the following three points I made yesterday to Mr. Josep Borrell, the new EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Given the uncertainties in the international situation, China and the EU should strengthen strategic coordination and instill greater stability to this world; confronted with the rise of unilateralism and power politics, China and the EU should advocate and promote multilateralism and inject more positive energy to this world; facing the headwinds of protectionism, China and the EU should uphold free trade and make the world a more open place.