China-EU Summit's 'ice-breaking' role expected to advance bilateral cooperation: experts
Trade, investment and other issued to be discussed
Published: Mar 01, 2022 09:21 PM
Flags of the European Union fly outside the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, May 21, 2021. The European Union (EU) recommended on Thursday to open its external borders to non-essential travel into the bloc if travellers have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. (Xinhua/Zheng Huansong)

Flags of the European Union fly outside the EU headquarters in Brussels, Belgium (Xinhua/Zheng Huansong)

China's development is a good opportunity for the EU, not a challenge, nor is it a "threat" that some people clamor for, Chinese Commerce Minister Wang Wentao said in Beijing on Tuesday, calling on both sides to strengthen communication and promote healthy competition.

The remarks came in the middle of the lingering political uncertainties between China and the EU, especially with issues concerning Lithuania's provocation over the Taiwan question, while the need for both sides to find commonalities to work together are stronger than ever in the wake of the growing complexity of the world, highlighted by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, experts said.

While there are differences in bilateral relations, the cooperation between China and Europe is greater than competition, and both sides are not rivals but partners, Wang said at a press conference, expressing his expectation for greater cooperation in various fields, including the advancement of the ratification and entry into force of the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), which was put on hold by the European Parliament.

The commerce minister's statement came as the EU vice-president and EU trade chief Valdis Dombrovskis on Monday, saying that the EU will hold a summit with China on April 1 in a bid to defuse their tensions.

"It is clear that some of those topics need to be addressed at the highest political level to see to what extent we can align and improve our cooperation," Dombrovskis said.

The closer talks between China and the EU represent an important "ice-breaking" move that meets the needs of both sides, especially in the complex global situation, experts said.

"The upcoming China-EU summit on April 1 is expected to be an important opportunity to 'break the ice' of the China-EU investment agreement," Yan Shiqiang, associate researcher with the Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, told the Global Times on Tuesday, predicting that with the meeting, tense bilateral relations will ease.

Moreover, the CAI is likely to be rectified if everything goes well, Yan said, "but given the complex situation now facing the world, various hurdles and uncertainties could still handicap the process."

"The China-EU Summit is the important link to maintain the stability of bilateral cooperation...EU leaders should take this opportunity to exchange thoughts with China," Zhao Junjie, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences' Institute of European Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Despite the complex situation, economic and trade cooperation between China and the EU has maintained rapid development.

Bilateral trade exceeded $800 billion in 2021, a record high. China remains the largest trading partner of the EU, and the EU is China's second-largest trading partner.

Last year, the agreement on geographical indications between China and the EU came into effect. Also in the same year, the number of China-Europe cargo trains reached 15,000, a year-on-year increase of 22 percent.

Experts said that given the broad strategic consensus and common interests shared by China and the EU, both should strengthen communication, which will not only be a win-win outcome but a big contribution to the economic recovery in the world.

A recent example is the signing of a list of the fourth round of demonstration projects for third-party market cooperation between China and France, which now holds the Presidency of the Council of the EU, on February 14, with a total amount of more than $1.7 billion.

While the upcoming China-EU Summit comes at a critical time with high expectations, experts suggest that one should not have high hopes for an outcome from a single meeting.

"One of the most important prerequisites is that Europe must achieve strategic independence and not follow the US all the time or even become an 'accomplice' of the US to contain China," Zhao said.

In the past two years, some European politicians, including the parliament, have been making constant noise against China, closely following the US squeeze against China, which has resulted in a lack of mutual trust between China and the EU, experts said.

"Although economic and trade cooperation has bucked the trend and continues to reach record highs, it can only walk on one leg. It is unstable, and the political leg is a short leg," Zhao said.