Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (center) and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel (left) jointly visit the Geely-Volvo Innovation Display in Brussels on June 2 (XINHUA)
In face of increasing uncertainties, China and the European Union (EU) have pledged to work together to push forward free trade and globalization while deepening bilateral cooperation in various fields.
From May 30 to June 2, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang paid an official visit to Germany and Belgium. Premier Li's schedule included an annual meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, attending the 19th China-EU Summit in Brussels and an official trip to Belgium. In less than 25 hours in Berlin, Premier Li attended 12 events. And in Brussels, there were a total of 19 China-EU and China-Belgium meetings and events for the Chinese premier.
With Premier Li's visit, China and the EU have expanded their consensus on facilitating bilateral free trade and investment as well as backing multilateral approaches in addressing global challenges. China and the EU have maintained stable development in bilateral relations, with economic cooperation being a cornerstone of China-EU ties. Since 2004, the EU has been China's largest trading partner, while China has been the second largest trading partner of the EU for years. Notably, China replaced the United States as Germany's largest trading partner last year. Meanwhile, Germany has been China's largest trading partner among European states.
Nonetheless, current changes to the world situation, especially the growing populist sentiment that has been reflected in elections in major Western countries, have an inevitable impact on China-EU ties. Against this backdrop, both the Chinese and the EU sides need to coordinate their stance on many issues.
As Vice Foreign Minister of China Wang Chao briefed the press prior to Li's trip, "China hopes to, through this visit, strengthen strategic communication and coordination with relevant parties, enhance political mutual trust, upgrade the level of practical cooperation, inject new impetus into the development of China-Germany all-round strategic partnership, China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership and China-Belgium all-round friendly cooperative partnership, and jointly release a positive signal of cooperation, openness and win-win results."
Impetus for bilateral ties
Berlin was the first stop in Premier Li's tour. The Chinese premier and German chancellor held the annual China-Germany Prime Ministers' Meeting on June 1. In addition, the two leaders jointly attended the "China-Germany Forum—Co-shape Innovation" and interacted with the business communities. Li also met with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany.
Li and Merkel also witnessed the signing of more than 10 cooperation documents between both countries in the fields of economy, trade, new-energy vehicles, trilateral cooperation, finance and artificial intelligence.
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of China-Germany diplomatic relations. Both leaders spoke highly of the development of bilateral ties. Today, the two countries have established over 70 bilateral consultation and cooperation mechanisms and channels, which have helped promote mutual political and strategic trust and uplift bilateral cooperation. As two of the major industrial countries in the world, China and Germany have huge potential to tap into industrial cooperation.
In his speech at the China-Germany Forum, Premier Li said that the two sides have jointly built the first "Industry 4.0" demonstration production line in Shenyang, which is a concrete result of cooperation between the "Made in China 2025" and "Industry 4.0" development strategies of China and Germany, respectively.
Li also mentioned that metro trains jointly developed by CRRC and Siemens are sold to the United States, Brazil and other countries, showing the dynamism of China-Germany cooperation in third markets. China's research institutes and companies have created the "2+2" cooperation model, building a bridge connecting research findings with market application. Sino-German industrial parks in Shenyang, Qingdao, Wuhu, Jieyang and Taicang, have emerged as the front-runners of bilateral innovation cooperation.
In her address to the forum, Merkel said the bilateral trade volume between Germany and China reached 170 billion euros ($191 billion) last year. The chancellor also showed appreciation for China's efforts to expand market access and protect intellectual property rights. The German side stands ready to, together with China, forge an innovation policy platform and align innovation and hi-tech development strategies in a bid to expand bilateral innovative partnership, Merkel said.
Merkel also encouraged German enterprises to participate in the Belt and Road Initiative. In mid-May, China hosted the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in Beijing. The forum caught the attention of the international community. Germany has been participating in the initiative and is a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Now there are a number of regular international freight trains running from Chinese cities to European cities including Hamburg, the famous harbor city in Germany.
Wang Yiwei, Director of the Center for European Union Studies under Renmin University of China, remarked that China and European states have achieved remarkable progress in deepening cooperation and enhancing connectivity since the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed. The opening of China-Europe regular freight trains has promoted trade. The freight train can save four fifths of the cost of air transport and cut the transport time needed by sea in half. China-Europe regular freight trains also promote a logistics boom in Central and Eastern Europe, consolidating trade connectivity between China and European states, Wang told People's Daily.
In the EU headquarters, Li attended a series of activities, including a China-EU business summit, a China-EU dialogue on innovation cooperation, a signing ceremony of cooperation documents between small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and activities marking the China-EU year of tourism.
As the last event of his Belgium trip, Premier Li and Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium jointly visited the Geely-Volvo Innovation Display in Brussels on the evening of June 2.
China's automaker Geely Group completed acquisition of the Swedish auto brand Volvo in 2010. The Volvo Cars factory in Ghent, Belgium, as the largest car assembly plant of Volvo Car Corp. outside Sweden, has enjoyed steady growth in output and sales, while driving local employment, since the acquisition. The Volvo factory in Ghent accounts for over half of Volvo's global output, and 40 percent of vehicles produced here are exported to the Chinese market. Premier Li Keqiang praised Geely's contribution to China-Belgium ties. He said that China is implementing the "Made in China 2025" strategy and actively boosting a new round of opening up at a higher level.
Trade issues and solutions
Among all outcomes of Premier Li's tour, it is worth noting that China and the EU expanded common understanding on bilateral trade issues. The EU has not fulfilled the obligations in Article 15 of the Protocol on China's Accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Merkel made clear at a joint press conference in Berlin that both Germany and China approve of international trade on the basis of the rules and support WTO principles and regulations. She discussed the topic of Article 15 of the Protocol on China's Accession to the WTO with Premier Li. She believed that the EU should fulfill the obligations and make efforts to seek solutions in line with WTO rules, with equal treatment to all countries.
Premier Li held a discussion on this issue with Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, at the China-EU Summit in Brussels on June 1 and 2. The EU said it is in the process of amending the relevant legislation and commits to doing so in a non-discriminatory manner consistent with WTO rules.
Regarding the negotiation on the China-EU investment agreement, Premier Li said that accelerating the agreement benefits the two-way opening-up and equality between the Chinese and EU markets. Both China and the EU also talked about the feasibility of establishing a free trade zone.
Together for global challenges
During Li's tour, the Chinese Premier and his counterparts of Germany, Belgium and the EU spoke with a common voice on working together on global governance. U.S. President Donald Trump announced on June 1 that the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accord, which marks a sharp contrast to the stance of Chinese and EU leaders on this issue.
As an outcome of the China-EU Summit, the two sides reaffirmed the importance of addressing climate change and their commitment under the 2015 Paris Agreement, and agreed to step up cooperation to promote its implementation.
On the climate change issue, Premier Li said to the press in Berlin that combating climate change has a global voice and consensus. "As a big developing country, it is not only the international responsibility China should shoulder, but also an internal demand for China during the transformation of its development mode."
Dancers from north China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region perform at the opening of the Third China Arts Festival in the EU in Brussels, Belgium, on May 18 (XINHUA)
Cheng Cheng, associate researcher of Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China, commented in People's Daily that the disagreements between the United States and the EU on free trade and climate change have reached the widest point since the end of Cold War. "European leaders have realized that they can't follow Washington's baton on a number of critical issues and that Europe must pursue more independent foreign policy," Cheng said.
The EU is aware of the importance of strengthening cooperation with China and other emerging countries. China has shown its sincerity and commitment through working together with the international community to promote free trade and tackle climate change, Cheng added.
"Trump's unilateral acts on trade and climate change increase the EU's sense of crisis, which creates more opportunities for the EU to work together with China," commented Cui Hongjian, senior research fellow and director of the department for European Studies under the China Institute of International Studies.
In spite of disputes on trade and other issues, China always supports the EU's regional integration efforts and the unity of its voice on foreign policy. So the EU should be confident of the partnership with China, Cui remarked.
While the United States is inclined to solve its problems unilaterally, China is implementing the idea of building a new type of international relations that centers on mutual benefit and win-win cooperation. China will also shoulder more responsibility in global governance in future. Therefore, the EU should take steps to remove obstacles and strengthen ties with China, Cui said.
Copyedited by Dominic James Madar
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