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Seeking an elusive China-EU strategic partnership
March 24, 2014, 11:01 am

Xi’s visit will enhance mutual understanding and respect and promote settling disputes and expanding common ground in global issues

President Xi Jinping begins his visit to four European Union countries on Saturday, a major diplomatic action by China’s new leadership to promote relations with its strategic partner.

Dutch King Willem-Alexander (R) holds a welcoming ceremony for Chinese President Xi Jinping(L) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, March 22, 2014 [Xinhua]

Dutch King Willem-Alexander (R) holds a welcoming ceremony for Chinese President Xi Jinping(L) in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, March 22, 2014 [Xinhua]

The EU has the world’s highest concentration of developed countries, with higher economic and social development levels, huge markets, abundant capital and advanced technology. The continuous development of China’s economy is increasingly dependent on the EU’s markets, products, technology and investment. There is no doubt that the EU has been and will continue to be an important partner of China and strengthening their friendly cooperation will definitely produce more practical win-win results for both sides.

Two centenary goals were set at the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China: building an all-round well-off society by 2020, before the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Party, and building a developed nation by 2050, around the 100th anniversary of the founding of New China. Realizing these two centenary goals needs not only the hard work of the Chinese people, but also the support and cooperation of the outside world.

At present, China is stepping up efforts to implement its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15) for national economic and social development and the EU is carrying out its “Europe 2020” strategy. And there are many similarities between China’s plan and the EU’s strategy. For example, China is speeding up the transformation of its economic development pattern and striving to build a resource-conserving and environmentally friendly society; while the EU wants to promote “intelligent” growth and develop a low carbon economy through improving energy efficiency and other means. This shows that the two sides can draw on each other’s strengths and bring out the best in each other in the pursuit of their own development goals.

In the field of international politics, especially within the framework of the United Nations and the G20, cooperation between China and the EU is also indispensable. In fact, China-EU cooperation has made considerable achievements.

In October 2003, China issued an EU policy paper to enhance China-EU all-round cooperation and promote the long-term and stable development of China-EU relations. Ten years later, at the 16th China-EU Summit both sides jointly adopted the “EU-China 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation”, which put forward 93 key initiatives to promote the comprehensive strategic partnership over the coming years.

However, differences in their economic development stages, political systems, cultural traditions and values can become obstacles to the smooth development of bilateral relations if not properly handled. To further promote the China-EU Comprehensive Strategic Partnership in the next decade, the leaders from both sides should pay more attention to the following aspects.

The first is how to deal with trade frictions. The EU is China’s largest trade partner, while China is the EU’s second-largest trading partner after the United States. According to the Ministry of Commerce, the value of China-EU trade reached $559.06 billion in 2013. Only cooperation based on a positive, friendly, pragmatic and flexible attitude can create a good atmosphere and conditions for the fostering of bilateral economic and trade exchanges. Only by using dialogue and consultation in solving trade frictions can both sides maintain the healthy and stable development of their economic and trade relations. The settlement of the trade dispute over photovoltaic products between China and the EU in 2013 suggests that the two can work together to overcome disagreements and are prepared to shoulder their common responsibility to oppose trade protectionism.

The second is how to further enhance mutual understanding. In addition to high-level visits, the two sides should further promote people-to-people exchanges. Tourists, visiting scholars, journalists, athletes, artists and students can all contribute to promoting mutual understanding. Only by increasing mutual communication and understanding can the two sides jointly advance the China-EU Comprehensive Strategic Partnership over the coming years.

The third is how to respect each other’s interests. It is natural for any country, big or small, to defend its own national interests, but the two sides must show they realize the necessity and importance of equality, mutual respect and mutual understanding.

Both sides need to respect the other’s self-determined development path, show tolerance to their differences, learn from each other’s strengths and jointly promote the progress of human civilization. This is the political foundation for the strategic partnership between China and the EU and also a positive energy for its progressive development.

The fourth is how to seek common ground while shelving differences on some major international issues. The world is experiencing profound and complex changes. Due to their respective national interests, it is natural that China and the EU have different views on some international issues, but such differences should not become resistance to the advancing of China-EU relations. The two sides should correctly understand and respect each other’s position, seek common ground while putting aside differences, and refrain from interfering in the other’s foreign policy.


This article first appeared in China Daily.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the publisher's editorial policy.