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Wang Huiyao: China-EU Relations on a New Journey

Date: 2019-04-01
 
From 21 to 26 March, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid state visits to Italy, Monaco, and France. China and Italy signed an MOU on Belt and Road cooperation. President Xi attended the closing ceremony of China-France Global Governance Forum and met with the heads of government of Italy, France, and Germany and the President of the European Commission. His trip demonstrated the great potential of China-EU cooperation in a range of areas and plays a critical role in boosting the overall relations between China and Europe and the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership.
 
 
 
China and Europe enjoy a bright prospect in BRI cooperation. Italy’s participation will give the country an external push for progress and add to the market interactions between China and Europe, creating opportunities for Eurasia connectivity. As the first G7 member state to be part of the initiative, Italy made history and produced a strong demonstration effect. The BRI is recognized by many EU member states, with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and the European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker all positive on the initiative. All of this, together with the upcoming second edition of the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing, will provide an immense space for China-EU cooperation under the initiative.
 
 
 
China and the EU are partners in global governance and face great opportunities ahead. The quadripartite meeting during China-France Forum on global governance produced consensus on China and the EU working together to uphold multilateralism and enhance global governance. It is a signpost that pointed out the future direction. At the China-EU summit to be held in Brussels, Chinese and EU leaders will agree on forward-looking measures to increase business cooperation and enhance global governance. Opportunities for global governance cooperation between the two sides can be found in various areas, including the WTO reform, cyber-security, business investment, market and etc.
 
 
 
China and the EU share close economic links. Since 2014, the EU has been China’s biggest trading partner for 14 years, while China is the EU’s second largest. According to statistics of the Chinese customs authorities, China’s inbound and outbound trade with the EU in 2018 was valued at 4.5 trillion RMB, up 7.9% year on year, and the EU remains our top trading partner and top source of import. China recently promulgated the Foreign Investment Law, which will make the country more open, more hospitable to foreign businesses, and more effective in protecting intellectual property. It will play an important role in encouraging European investment in China and increasing the economic bonds between the two sides.
 
 
 
China and the EU have strong cultural bonds. People-to-people interactions are the second largest pillar in China-EU cooperation. This bond dates back to the ancient silk road, the first group of Chinese students studying in Europe in modern times, and keeps strengthening as more students, businessmen, and tourists travel between the two sides. Their interactions enhanced cultural exchange and mutual understanding. Now, a greater share of Chinese students are choosing Europe as their destinations of foreign studies, making up the largest foreign student communities in the UK, Sweden, and Switzerland. Europe is the second most favored destination for Chinese tourists traveling overseas. Statistics from China Tourism Academy shows in 2017 over 13.6 million visits were made to Europe by Chinese nationals.
 
 
 
Looking ahead, China-EU cooperation will benefit from efforts in the following areas: turning China-France Global Governance Forum into a regular mechanism that deals with global governance and multilateralism and provides Chinese and China-EU solutions; increasing cooperation in environmental protection, fighting global warming, managing international migration, and geopolitics; uncovering potential, enhancing multilateral cooperation, and coordinating positions during the China-EU Summit and the Second Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, particularly working together to promote multilateralism and build mutual trust; building on the China-France joint statement on upholding multilateralism and enhancing global governance, stepping up cooperation with other European countries to improve the global governance system and make economic globalization more open, transparent, inclusive, and non-discriminatory.
 
 
 
Expanding business and investment cooperation. During President Xi’s visit, China and Airbus signed orders worth 35 billion US dollars. This enhances Airbus’ involvement in China’s civil aviation sector and speaks to the confidence of both sides in carrying out long-term infrastructure cooperation. Cooperation in the auto sector is also growing. China is the largest single market of the top three German auto brands, Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. German carmakers are deepening their engagement in China.
 
 
 
China and the EU need to work together on the WTO modernization, deliver more progress under the economic and trade working group, join forces to reform the multilateral trading system, coordinate relations between developing and developed countries, and facilitate WTO breakthroughs in the service sector and digital economy. This will contribute to the creation of a more fair and equitable multilateral trading framework.
 
 
 
Greater BRI cooperation. Italy’s involvement in the BRI offers a model for other European countries to learn about and participate in the initiative. China needs to be open and inclusive to remove the doubts some European countries may have about the initiative and encourage their participation with the success of Italy.
 
 
 
China and the EU enjoy good prospects in cooperation in the third market, especially in Africa. Europe has an excellent knowledge on the conditions in Africa and has been involved in the continent for years, while China as an emerging country has technological, capital and political strengths. If they can join hands in the third market, more progress will be delivered to the benefit of all three sides.
 
 
Together, China and the EU can do a lot and their cooperation will boost confidence in the world economy. In the next four decades of China’s reform and opening, China-EU cooperation will bring more prosperity and progress to the two sides and the world at large.