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Chinese President Xi Jinping and visiting President of the European Council Charles Michel on Thursday vowed to strengthen strategic communication and cooperation while properly managing differences during their meeting in Beijing, the first official meeting between leaders of China and the EU since the conclusion of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and one which represents the EU’s “goodwill of furthering relations with China.”
Michel’s visit shows the EU’s desire to remain engaged with China and clarify misunderstandings through face-to-face communication. Following German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s visit to China and Xi’s meetings with several European leaders in Bali on the sidelines of the G20, Michel also aims to consolidate the momentum of stabilizing China-EU relations, which are currently facing great challenges.
Xi said on Thursday that maintaining an onward and upward momentum in the China-EU relationship and keeping it mutually beneficial serves the interests of both sides and those of the international community. The more unstable the international situation becomes and the more acute challenges the world faces, the greater global significance China-EU relations take on, Xi noted.
China will continue to develop its ties with EU from a strategic, long-term perspective, and will work with the EU to strengthen strategic communication and coordination and promote the steady and sustained growth of the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership, Xi said.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Li Zhanshu, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, also met with the EU leader respectively on Thursday.
Michel’s visit to China is of great significance, experts said, as Europe is now showing that it stands closer with the US, and the EU stance toward China is becoming increasingly tense, with more emphasis on competition and systemic rivalry. The EU’s foreign policy is at a juncture on whether to confront or cooperate with China.
At such a critical moment, Michel’s visit has sent a signal that represents rational voices, that is, refusing to follow the US and treat China primarily through a political and ideological perspective, Sun Keqin, a research fellow at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times on Thursday.
What the US wants is hegemony, but Europe wants survival, and the EU cannot achieve that without China, Sun said, “China, instead, has never posed a threat to them.”
Cui Hongjian, director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, told the Global Times on Thursday that Michel is representing the EU and the interests and voices of the majority of its 27 member states, not those of the minority.
Certain countries, such as Lithuania, which have been rather aggressive in their policies toward China, cannot play a leading role against the backdrop of close cooperation and enhancing dialogue between China and the EU.
Seeking common ground
At the Thursday meeting, Xi made observations on the development of China-EU relations and first stressed that it is important to keep the right perception. “There are no strategic differences or conflicts of fundamental significance between China and the EU. China does not seek dominance or hegemony. China has never and will never export its system,” Xi noted.
Observers see this proposal as one of the highlights of the Thursday talk, which stressed that Europe should not blindly follow in the US’ footsteps and let misunderstandings, especially intentional ones, sabotage Chine-EU ties.
The Chinese president hoped that EU institutions and member states will gain an objective and correct perception of China, and rise above ideological antagonism, transcend confrontation of systems, and reject a new cold war, whatever form it takes.
It is important to properly manage differences and it is essential to respect each other’s major concerns and core interests and refrain from interfering in each other’s internal affairs, Xi noted.
The two sides need to work together to nurture new growth drivers in digital economy, green development and environment protection, new energies, and artificial intelligence, Xi said, calling on the EU to stay free from disturbances and provide Chinese companies with a fair and transparent business environment.
The world’s peace and development is at a crossroads as the US grasps at every chance to pull in allies to suppress the rise of developing countries and divide the world through ‘decoupling,’ imposing unilateral sanctions and playing ideological cards, Sun Keqin said.
If the EU, as one of the major economies of the world, continues to follow the US, severe global division will be very likely, Sun said.
Xi urged China and the EU to strengthen coordination in international affairs. China and the EU, both advocates of upholding the international system with the United Nations at its core, can work together to follow true multilateralism, rise to challenges, and safeguard global peace and development, Xi said.
For his part, Michel recognized that China does not pursue expansion, and he said China is an important partner for upholding the purposes of the UN Charter and supporting multilateralism.
Michel also called for increasing mutual understanding and managing differences properly. He noted that the EU pursues strategic autonomy, upholds the one-China policy and respects China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. It will not interfere in China’s internal affairs.
The EU is willing to reduce misunderstanding through more direct dialogue, and strengthen communication to better respond to the energy crisis, climate change, public health and other global challenges, Michel said.
Michel also brought up the China-EU investment agreement, saying that the EU will work with China to bring forward the process toward the treaty and make supply chains more stable.
The EU has shown a strong willingness to advance the China-EU investment treaty, which was shelved last year after EU lawmakers slapped sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged human rights abuses, Zhao Chen, a research fellow at the Institute of European Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times on Thursday.
However, obstructions by the European Parliament and the Russia-Ukraine conflict have brought negative short-term impacts on the ratification of the agreement, Zhao noted.
Upon news of the Michel visit, Western media commented that the meeting comes at a time when the EU “grapples with how to treat China amid pressure for a tougher approach from the US.”
EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell insisted during a debate on November 22 that the EU will not follow the US’ toughest policies on China, as he “clashed with lawmakers calling for a more aggressive approach to Beijing,” South China Morning Post reported on November 23.
Borrell’s remarks echoed those of Dutch officials, who have pushed back against Washington’s efforts to build a common front blocking China’s access to semiconductors, the report said.
Both China and Europe have a lot invested in their partnership. The total value of goods traded between the two sides hit $732 billion last year, up by nearly one-quarter from 2019, CNN reported on Wednesday.
According to Eurostat data, China was the third largest destination for EU goods exports and the EU’s biggest source of imports, accounting for 22 percent in 2021.
Xi and Michel also exchanged views on the Ukraine crisis. Xi expounded on China’s position, noting that a political settlement of the crisis best serves Europe’s interests and the common interests of all countries in Eurasia.
China supports the EU in stepping up mediation efforts and playing a leading role in building a balanced, effective and sustainable security architecture in Europe. China will remain on the side of peace and continue to play a constructive role in its own way, Xi said.