Enhancing Mutual Trust and Cooperation to Embrace an Even Better Future of China-EU Relations
– Speech at the “Sixty-Minute Briefing” Event of the European Policy Center
H.E. Wang Yi, State Councilor and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China
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 per cent 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 per cent, 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent from last year. From January to July, EU investment in China was up by 18.3 per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent of the Chinese surveyed expressing satisfaction, way above the global median of 47 per cent.