Despite differences, Europe should realize there is strength in unity with China

By Mei Zhaorong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/12/5 23:33:40

Photo: IC

China-EU relations have forged ahead to an unprecedented level despite passing through twists and turns since the establishment of diplomatic ties in 1975. Although win-win cooperation has become the theme of ties, conflicts and frictions are emerging. 

The frequency of high-level visits between the two sides is an indicator of the importance they attach to each other. Various consultation and dialogue mechanisms between them have worked well, playing a positive role in enhancing communication, mutual understanding and resolving problems. However, with the rapid rise of China, an emerging hubbub has affected bilateral relations. 

Some European media outlets and politicians trumpet the "China threat theory," claiming the country has become a competitor or rival not only in the economic and technological domains, but also in terms of political system. They complain about China's "deteriorating" business environment, accuse it of forcing European firms to transfer technology to their joint ventures with Chinese partners and criticize the Asian power for a lack of reciprocity in investment relations. Speculation that the "17+1" cooperation mechanism is aimed at "dividing" Europe is running high. When it comes to the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), some European countries want to benefit from the grand vision but criticize the country for what they call debt trap diplomacy or a geopolitical tool. The recent months have also seen some German media outlets and politicians twist the truth and confuse right and wrong about issues related to Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and Hong Kong. 

These charges against China are unfounded. European elites have long regarded the Chinese political system and ideology unpromising. Why has China all of a sudden become a threat to Europe? It's perplexing. It's the West that has been attempting to transform China with the help of Western values and political system. China has always believed that its political system is in line with its own national conditions and cannot be copied. 

Claims that China's business environment is worsening run counter to facts. If they were true, why have German enterprises remained in China and further expanded their investment? 

The "17+1" cooperation mechanism is a part of China-Europe cooperation, which has not only met the development demands of Central and Eastern European countries, but could also help mitigate unbalanced development among European countries so as to promote integration of the continent.

 China has made it clear from the very beginning that the BRI is a platform for international economic cooperation based on the principle of joint consultation and construction. Duisburg and Hamburg, the two German cities, have benefited significantly from the growing number of China Railway Express freight trains. 

The vocational education and training centers established in Xinjiang teach work skills so that more people can find jobs, make money, support families, and help citizens from falling to the lure of extremist forces. It's an effective way to combat terrorism and extremism. Foreign envoys and representatives invited to visit the centers hailed the effort. Facts speak louder than words. No single terrorist attack has occurred in Xinjiang over the past few years. Isn't it laudable? As for the Hong Kong issue, unbiased local sources pointed out that some German politicians met so-called Hong Kong pro-democracy activists merely for scoring political points.  

There are three root causes for the emergence of the uproar over China's rise. First, some Western political elites, who believe their democratic system and values are of universal value, draw lines according to ideology and the political system when dealing with state-to-state relations. They nurture a feeling of antagonism toward China's adherence to socialism with Chinese characteristics and the leadership of the Communist Party of China. With the country's economy and technology rapidly growing, and political system being increasingly recognized by the international community, they feel the attractiveness of Western political systems is waning - which upsets them, and, even intimidates them. 

Second, a mind-set of zero-sum game plays a role. Those Western political elites don't believe in the concept of win-win cooperation, thinking China's rise means Europe's decline. They refuse to view the achievements made by a large developing country through the lens of hard work and human progress. The development of China means huge markets, supplies of cheap and quality products and an attractive investment destination. It's an opportunity, not a threat. 

Third, European elites, especially in major powers such as Germany, to varying degrees are pro-Atlantic because of the education they received. They are subject to American influence, lack independent thinking and tend to follow the US over some major issues. 

We should be calm in the wake of some Europeans' unfriendly vibes against China. But we should also not miss the larger picture of China-Europe relations and not be pessimistic about the prospects of ties. Due to different social and political systems, historical and cultural traditions as well as differences in development stage, it's inevitable that the two sides will have differences over some issues. Frictions with China have gradually become strong, so has the driving force to forge cooperation for mutual benefit. 

Global governance is needed to deal with emerging global challenges. No country can tackle challenges alone. China and Europe have common interests over a string of major global issues. For instance, they both need a peaceful and stable international environment, support the peaceful settlement of international disputes, are beneficiaries, defenders and promoters of globalization, and oppose unilateralism.  

The two economies are highly complementary. Each has its own advantages and has high demand for cooperation with the other side. There is great potential, room and driving force to develop beneficial and win-win cooperation.  

Besides, China will never stop its reform and opening-up exercise. The Chinese market with 1.4 billion people possessing increasing purchasing power is unique in the world and indispensible for the export-oriented European countries. Moreover, no historical disputes are left between China and Europe, nor is there a hotbed for geopolitical conflicts. With the blooming economic cooperation between the two sides, forces in favor of strengthening cooperation with China will become the majority and objective and rational views in the country will rise. 

This is an abstract of a speech delivered by Mei Zhaorong, former Chinese ambassador to Germany, at The International Symposium on Belt and Road Initiative and Sino-European Strategic Cooperation held in Shanghai International Studies University on Monday. 

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