Are China-Europe ties going off the cliff?
Key to bilateral relations cooperation, politicizing trade leads nowhere: FM
Published: May 26, 2021 11:54 PM
China-EU Photo: VCG

China-EU Photo: VCG

 Chinese observers shrugged off recent voices that claimed China-Europe relations are headed off a cliff, stressing that some politicians and countries who were kidnapped by ideological conflicts and had illusions on the US cannot represent the entire Europe, nor define the future trend of bilateral relations as Chinese top leaders and officials offered their insight on how to manage the comprehensive strategic partnership between China and the EU in face of both opportunities and challenges and warned against politicizing trade issues.     

In his latest comment on China-EU relations, Chinese President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday that it is foreseeable that in the future, the China-Europe relations will embrace new opportunities and meanwhile confront various challenges. 

He made the remarks in his phone conversation with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

The key is to firmly grasp the general direction of the comprehensive strategic partnership, properly manage differences and maintain the main tone of win-win cooperation, Xi said. 

"The China-EU investment agreement is highly mutually beneficial, not a one-sided favor. The Xinjiang-related issue bears on China's sovereignty and security. Attempts by some in the EU to link issues of different nature and turn trade issues into political ones are not acceptable and would lead nowhere," Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in an address to an online session on China at the Munich Security Conference on Tuesday. 

Political confrontation and economic decoupling with China go against the interests of Europe, as cooperation is the general direction and key to bilateral relations, Wang said. He pointed out that China is a trustworthy partner of all countries, not an institutional rival that confronts others. 

After Wang made his remarks at the conference, Federica Mogherini, former Vice President of the European Commission, said that China is a systemic rival to Western countries and asked Wang if climate changes was the only practical or real field for EU and China cooperation.

But Mogherini said she believes that Europe understands that dialogue is a must and cooperation is better than confrontation. The important thing is to be clear and respectful and to put everything on the table in an honest manner.

Wang's remarks also came after the European Parliament passed a motion last week to freeze discussions on the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), in response to the Chinese sanctions, which are countermeasures to European sanctions on China over so-called Xinjiang human rights claims. It also came after Lithuania's decision to withdraw from the 17+1 cooperation mechanism between China and Central and Eastern Europe countries.

Some US and Western media outlets hyped the two "setbacks" as the latest indications of an increasingly "shaky relationship" between China and the European Union. 

Chinese observers said what Mogherini brought up at the conference represents the pessimistic view of China-Europe relations within the continent as some believe the ties are losing control and the competition nature in bilateral ties becomes more prominent than cooperation. 

But in the face of such "pressure tests," China-Europe relations cannot be detoured or stopped. The China and EU face a dilemma, particularly references that the EU is attempting to kidnap China-EU economic and trade relations with so-called human rights diplomacy. But China has the initiative in its relations with the EU and China-EU relations have many cornerstones that won't be easily shaken, they said. 

Europe has regarded China-US relations as their main reference indicator, and the "spillover effect" is becoming increasingly obvious, Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Some European politicians have high expectations for the Biden administration after Trump left office, and they are often subject to US pressure on China issues, Cui said. 

Such a pessimistic view of China-Europe relations cannot set the tone for bilateral ties due to divisions in security and economic interests, on which major European countries like Germany have always been pragmatic and rational over cooperation with China, Cui said.

In an interview with German Süddeutsche Zeitung on Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she can continue to guarantee the "every word" of the CAI. If the agreement can take effect, market access for European companies in China will be improved, and climate protection and labor standards will also be addressed, Merkel stressed. 

After losing the opportunity to expand their profits in China for the time being, European investors will cherish the existing basis of cooperation between China and Europe which will lead bilateral trade cooperation to greater resilience, Cui said. 

Germany has always upheld a pragmatic, cooperative and rational attitude toward China, since China has been its largest trading partner for five consecutive years. There are broad prospects for cooperation between the two sides in the fields of commerce and trade, global governance, digital economy, and energy security, and there is a great demand for the Chinese market, Zhao Junjie, a research fellow at the Institute of European Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Cooperation between China and Europe in public health, climate change, energy transition and strategic stability is also promoted in an orderly manner. In April, by inviting President Xi to a climate summit, endorsing China's ambitious carbon neutrality plan and economic growth, leaders from Germany and France sent positive signals of saving ties between Beijing and Brussels out of a previous plight caused by tit-for-tat sanctions, and expanding the scope for future cooperation.

On Friday, the Chinese President's attendance at the Global Health Summit was also believed to show that China and Europe will not stop their cooperation in areas where there is consensus, and the motion is just a scrap of paper. 

China is in a better position than Europe with more resources and ways to adapt to changes. The complexity of the current China-Europe relations will further demonstrate China's gentlemanly demeanor of "to do something or not to do something" in its diplomacy, Cui said. 

The "setbacks" will make it clearer where the common interests lie between China and Europe. The bilateral ties will embrace a brighter future if they could wade through the muddy waters, Cui said.