Op-Ed Contributors

China and EU: Moving forward together

Updated: 2011-03-21 08:02

By Song Zhe (China Daily)

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Time right for improved policy coordination and stronger strategic cooperation between China and Europe

This year, China-EU relations are off to a very good start with a series of important events.

Vice-Premier Li Keqiang's visit to Spain, Germany and the UK at the beginning of the year reinforced bilateral ties between China and key European Union member states. People-to-people exchanges between China and Europe will also be strengthened as we launched our first thematic year event, the EU-China Year of Youth, in Brussels on January 11 and Beijing on Feb 23. We are expecting a number of high-level visits during the first half of the year and I have high confidence that China-EU relations will record new progress in 2011.

After 35 years of growth and engagement, our relationship is comprehensive, strategic, dynamic and mutually beneficial. It is mature and solid enough to withstand tests and forge ahead. Premier Wen Jiabao recently said that China and Europe are at a critical moment for deepening cooperation. How we share the opportunities to address challenges and promote development will have a direct impact on us and on the world. So the question is why are there opportunities?

First, we are facing a changing international situation and global challenges. The world is undergoing profound adjustment with proliferating global challenges, uncertainties, and destabilizing factors. As the significance of our ties grow, we are supposed to play bigger roles on a myriad of fronts, ranging from international security matters, such as the Iranian nuclear issue, counter-terrorism, and the fight against piracy, to global governance including the reform of the international monetary regime and climate change. Whether it's in the United Nations or in the G20, there is higher expectation for better policy coordination and stronger strategic cooperation between China and Europe.

Second, China and Europe are both charting a course for growth. 2011 marks the beginning of China's 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-2015) and Europe's 2020 Strategy. The plans share many similar ideas and priorities and thus present huge potential for practical cooperation in areas like a green economy, environmental protection, scientific innovation, and technology-intensive industries. We must make the best out of our comparative advantages, by thoughtfully matching Europe's expertise with China's market, and facilitate common business growth.

Third, the EU is undergoing institutional adjustment. More than a year has past since the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty. The process of implementation has been smooth and is on the right track. The European External Action Service has become operational, the European Parliament has gained notable strength in EU-related affairs and contrary to many people, I believe the challenges posed by the debt crisis will further accelerate European integration. At this juncture, we must deepen our strategic mutual trust to re-anchor the EU's China policy and make it more consistent, positive, and coordinated.

Fourth, this year is full of thematic events for people-to-people exchanges to forge better understanding and a sense of closeness between our two peoples. The friendship between China and Europe is after all about our peoples. When our peoples enjoy better communication, we are more likely to sustain healthy growth in our bilateral ties. We are presented with opportunities, yet to translate them into actual achievements requires resolve, wisdom and resources. To put this into perspective, I wish to highlight the importance of achieving balance in three pairs of relations.

The first one is the balance between long-term and short-term interests. Being strategic is the core feature of China-EU relations, so when dealing with everyday matters, it is essential that we don't forget about the larger picture and long-term interests of our ties. What we need to avoid is a deterioration in our relations because of some momentary difficulties. We have full confidence in the strategic vision and political wisdom of the EU leadership, and their ability to arrive at a China policy that serves the interests of both sides.

The second aspect is to achieve a balance between sectional and overarching interests. Our relations span multiple areas and levels. The shape of our relations on the whole will define how we perform in each and every particular area. If we do a good job at the top, the friendly spirit can work as a catalyst to facilitate practical cooperation across the board. It's no accident that the fastest growth in our business cooperation came at a time when we enjoyed the most stable political ties. The structure of our relationship decides the whole and the parts are mutually influential. Some friends in Europe, being too realistic and preoccupied with certain so-called practical issues, tend to ignore this fact. When we go for a walk and we don't take our eyes off our feet we lose track of where we are going. It is no different for China-EU relations. So we should try our best to create a sound general environment, and the least we can do is prevent sector interests and sensitive matters taking our overall relations hostage.

The third task is to obtain a balance between EU institutions and member states. People in China feel that when talking to EU institutions and member states, we get different answers and voices. We talk with member states a lot about cooperation and deals, whereas our conversations with the institutions are invariably heavily loaded with problems and concerns, which have seriously jeopardized China-EU ties and run against what we hoped for in our relations. We support stronger policy coordination between our counterparts so that Europe can engage in a positive dialogue with China with one voice. On the Chinese side, we will continue to develop our relations with EU institutions and member states in a lockstep fashion. We will not overplay one or the other, so as to make them mutually reinforcing and constantly growing.

The author is China's ambassador to the European Union.


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