French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve (with hat), French Minister for Social Affairs and Health Marisol Touraine (left) and other members of the French delegation visit the Forbidden City in Beijing on Wednesday. Cazeneuve is on a three-day visit to China. Photo: AFP
The recent visits of leaders of European Union (EU) member states show that China-EU ties are sound and jointly sustained, said Chinese experts, but challenges remain and require greater dedication.
Italian President Sergio Mattarella began his state visit to China on Tuesday at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping. His 6-day trip will take him to Beijing, Shanghai, Chongqing, and Xi'an in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province. His visit to Xi'an, the start of the ancient Silk Road, is widely considered as a sign of his interest in and support for China's One Belt, One Road Initiative.
French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve also kicked off his 3-day official visit to China on Tuesday. Besides meeting top Chinese officials, he also delivered a speech at Peking University and visited Wuhan in Central China's Hubei Province, which enjoys deep ties with French companies.
"Many EU countries, including Italy and France, are experiencing political turmoil. The visits of EU heads of state to China prove that despite domestic uncertainties, the EU considers China a very important power in the world, and is interested in cooperating with China," Francesco Sisci, an Italian scholar and a senior researcher at the Center of European Studies of the Renmin University of China, told the Global Times.
Under a stable development momentum, China-EU ties are not going to change. But efforts are still needed to enhance the comprehensive strategic partnership between the two sides to achieve concrete improvements, said Jiang Shixue, deputy director of the Institute for European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"It is widely recognized by European countries that the Belt and Road Initiative would provide a new avenue for China and the EU to engage in closer economic cooperation. Though opinions vary, Europeans generally welcome the initiative," Jiang told the Global Times.
US President Donald Trump has challenged US-EU ties since his campaign. He has hailed Brexit and criticized EU's immigration policy.
He indicated that he would withdraw support from Europe and called for greater European contributions to NATO, which has provoked strong opposition from EU leaders.
Elections will be held in Europe this year, marked by the rise of populism, and conservative forces from several countries have threatened to split from the EU. However, the current pro-establishment leaders from key EU countries, like Germany and France, are strongly defending globalization and free trade policies, which are being challenged by the Trump administration.
In his speech at Peking University, Cazeneuve said he will discuss with his Chinese counterparts ways to develop better China-EU relations with Brexit in mind, and called for joint efforts from China and France to enhance bilateral ties to confront the rise of protectionism, according to a report by the China Youth Daily on Wednesday.
Ambivalence on China
Jiang said he does not expect fundamental changes in US-Europe ties despite serious differences.
On the other hand, he warned that China-EU relations still face obstacles and challenges because of different systems, values and conflicting views on various issues.
"Some people I met who work for the European Parliament mistakenly believe that China's strategy toward EU is to 'divide and rule,' especially with China's cooperation with 16 central and eastern European countries," said Jiang.
The EU has launched an investigation into the feasibility of a Hungary-Serbia railway, which is supported by China and a showcase of the Belt and Road Initiative.
"The EU has an ambivalent view of China's investments. On one hand, it needs China's cooperation on capital and construction. On the other hand, it's concerned that China will interfere with the EU on infrastructure projects," Cui Hongjian, director of the China Institute of International Studies' Department of European Studies, told the Global Times.
China and EU may hold this year's annual summit earlier than in previous years.
"For the first time, last year's China-EU summit failed to come up with a joint declaration due to conflicting views on China's market economy status and the South China Sea disputes," said Jiang. "But this year, under new circumstances, the two sides will be committed to reaching a consensus."