There's 'enough room for further growth'

Updated: 2013-11-29 10:29

By Tuo Yannan in Brussels (China Daily Europe)

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Greater understanding and collaboration with China will help sustain economic growth in the European Union, says Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council.

"As much as China needs the European Union, the EU also needs China. China is a major destination for EU exports and it has made lots of contributions in sustaining the euro during the European financial crisis," Van Rompuy said in his remarks at the annual Europe-China Forum in Brussels on Nov 26.

At the two-day forum, organized by the Chinese Mission to the EU and Friends of Europe, a Brussels think tank, top officials from both sides discussed various issues pertaining to China-EU cooperation and future development.

China is a major source of investment and its rapidly growing economy offers and will continue to offer irreplaceable opportunities for economic expansion, Van Rompuy said.

Going one step further, he says that better understanding between the two sides will take the relationship to a new level. "Today we are partners in development for China in a deeper sense than just a trade partner. We are a partner that will bring experience and knowledge, a partner whose economy contributes to world growth, a partner on which it is worthwhile investing."

The EU has been China's biggest economic partner for the past nine years. Bilateral trade between the two sides reached $546 billion (405 billion euros) in 2012, a four-fold increase from a decade ago, and helped create jobs and business opportunities for both sides. The EU is also one of the top five investors in China, but the numbers are still much smaller than the true potential.

Chinese investment in Europe accounts for about 2 percent of the total overseas investment received by the EU, and there is enough room for growth, says Joao Aguiar Machado, deputy director general at the European Commission's Directorate General for Trade.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the China-EU strategic relationship. In his message to the forum, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said: "The China-EU partnership has made great strides, and cooperation in various fields has yielded fruitful results. Both China and the EU are at an important stage of their developmentit is all the more necessary and urgent for us to deepen China-EU relations."

Li said that in the coming decade, China and the EU would strengthen strategic mutual trust, actively promote trade, especially high-tech trade, and promote two-way investments through investment agreements.

China and the EU will expand cooperation in key areas like new urbanization, finance, scientific and technological innovation and connectivity in an effort to boost development, Li said.

"During my recent meetings with Chinese leaders in Beijing, we agreed on the need to enhance the trade and investment numbers," Van Rompuy says.

"Negotiations on an investment agreement with China should lead to further liberalization and a level playing field for EU firms."

Officials from both sides have confirmed that the first round of long-awaited negotiations on investment treaty will be launched early next year.

Wang Xiaochu, vice-chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National People's Congress of China, says China's development will bring more gains to the China-EU relationship.

Further expansion and development of the Chinese economy, especially with its focus on expanding domestic demand, will provide greater market opportunities for European companies and give stronger impetus to the bilateral relationship in economy and trade, he says.

Wang says a more open China will provide broader platforms for the two sides' strategic partnership, and a stable China will support the EU in responding to global challenges and safeguarding world peace.

In the past, China has developed cooperation in many areas with Europe such as in trade, people-to-people dialogue and education, but it is improving the "software" of cooperation now, such as soft power, says Ingrid d'Hooghe, senior research associate at Clingendael and former policy officer at the Netherlands embassy in Beijing.

Perceptions and general opinions about China have largely improved in Europe over the past five years, she says, especially among young people.

However, to further EU-China cooperation, hindrances need to be overcome on both sides.

Europe and China have three promising sectors for further development - high-tech, urbanization and green energy - says Cheng Weidong, professor at the European Studies Institute of the Chinese Academy for Social Sciences.

But challenges such as rising social problems during reform and transition still persist, Cheng says.

Several other experts in Europe have similar views. "Both sides have an important role to play in the global arena," says Christopher Dent, professor of East Asia's International Political Economy at Leeds University.

"If you take a look at the new energy sector, you will see that China and Europe are the two main investors. But in other sectors there is still space to grow," he says.

There's 'enough room for further growth'

(China Daily European Weekly 11/29/2013 page7)