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China and Europe seek to jointly meet challenges

By Wu Hongbo | China Daily Global | Updated: 2024-05-15 09:12
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President Xi Jinping's trip to Europe concluded with fruitful results amid high international attention. This was the Chinese leader's first European visit in five years, during which a lot happened both in Europe and around the world.

The choice of destinations — France, Serbia and Hungary — says a lot about China's expectations from its relations with Europe. France, with a tradition of independence, was the first big country in the West to establish formal diplomatic relations with China and to establish with it a comprehensive strategic partnership. The significance of China-France relationship goes beyond the bilateral context. Serbia is China's iron friend and its first comprehensive strategic partner in Central and Eastern Europe. Hungary is among the first countries to have established diplomatic relations with China and is celebrating the 75th anniversary of its ties with China this year. Enhancing friendship, communication and cooperation with Europe is high on China's diplomatic agenda.

Chinese and international viewers must have been impressed by the extraordinary arrangements that the three countries made for President Xi and the outcomes of the visit. French President Emmanuel Macron had long, in-depth meetings with the Chinese president and invited him to the Pyrenees, a place that holds special significance for President Macron as he often visited the region to meet his grandmother in his childhood. The visit produced a long list of deliverables, including a joint appeal for a global truce during the Paris Olympic Games. In Serbia, President Xi was greeted by thousands of friendly Serbian people, and the two presidents decided to build a China-Serbia community with a shared future, the first of its kind in Europe.

Hungary and China elevated bilateral ties to an all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership for the new era, sending their bilateral relations on a golden voyage.

It was noteworthy that a trilateral meeting among China, France and the European Union took place on the first day of the visit. International media had reported massively on the intention of the European side, which was basically about pressuring China on Ukraine and trade. Admittedly, Europe has changed much over the past five years, and so has the way it sees China. This brings challenges to China-Europe relations. Unlike the EU's three-pronged characterization of China as a partner, an economic competitor and a systemic rival, China regards Europe as a partner, believing that there is no fundamental conflict of interests between the two.

Since last year, China-Europe interactions that were disrupted by the pandemic have resumed. This year, a series of high-level visits to China by European leaders, including Prime Ministers of Belgium and the Netherlands and the German Chancellor, the political consultations at all levels, China's visa-free policies for many European countries, and now President Xi's visit, have all enhanced dialogue and understanding and demonstrated the desire on both sides to work together in a changing and even turbulent world.

China and Europe share the goals of upholding multilateralism and an open world economy. We may differ in specific ways and means of addressing challenges, but this will not stop us from cooperating with each other.

China and Europe together can bring peace and stability and work toward improved global governance. China and France called for a global truce during the Paris Olympic Games and issued a joint statement on the situation in the Middle East. The two sides also reached common understanding on AI and biodiversity, areas that matter significantly to the world's future.

Europe expects China to play a bigger role on Ukraine. In fact, China has been actively promoting peace in its own way. China upholds the purposes and principles of the UN Charter and is unequivocal in its opposition to the use of nuclear weapons. China's Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Ambassador Li Hui has conducted three rounds of shuttle diplomacy, contributing China's part to finding a political settlement for the crisis.

Europe seeks cooperation with China in many areas, including climate change. What China is doing is reducing emissions at home and contributing to global green transition with its quality and affordable green-tech products. Unfortunately, feeling threatened by China's growing competitiveness in green industries, the EU has resorted to protectionist measures, launching investigations under various names into Chinese companies. The good news is that there is still voice of reason and both sides are willing to address differences through dialogue. Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez witnessed in person the signing of an agreement on a joint venture to be established by a Chinese automaker in Spain. French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire extended welcome to Chinese investment for setting up electric vehicle plants in France. Leading automakers in Europe have made clear their opposition to probes into Chinese EVs.

Some Western critics see President Xi's visit as China's effort to sow disunity among EU members and to drive a wedge between Europe and its transatlantic ally. To be clear, countries make their foreign policy decisions based on national interests, not any abstract concept of ideology. China and Europe moving toward each other is determined by the convergence of interests, especially at a challenging time. It does not stand in the way of deepening ties with any third party. There is no doubt that Europe has the wisdom to determine what to do and who to work with to best serve its own interests.

The author is the Special Representative of the Chinese Government for European Affairs.

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