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EU Ambassador to China, former Chinese Ambassador to EU debate bilateral ties
Intense exchanges between Jorge Toledo and Wu Hailong at EU & China Think Tank Exchanges by European Policy Centre and CCG in Beijing
The following is the transcript of the speeches by Jorge Toledo Albiñana, Ambassador of the European Union to China, and Wu Hailong, President of the China Public Diplomacy Association (CPDA) and former Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs, at the Tuesday, Oct. 24 中欧智库交流 EU & China Think Tank Exchanges, co-organized by the European Policy Centre (EPC) and the Center for China and Globalization (CCG) and funded by the European Union, in Beijing.
Jorge Toledo Albiñana, Ambassador of the European Union to China.
Dear Henry, Dear Mable, Dear Friends of the CCG, a think tank, an organization, which is always so helpful to facilitate exchanges between the EU and China, Dear Ambassador Wu, Dear Colleagues from the EU, I can see some of them there. Dear participants in the EU-China Think Tank exchanges.
It is really a pleasure to speak at the opening of this conference, first of its kind since the lifting of COVID restrictions in January last year and first of its kind in the last four years.
Three years of pandemic measures left a significant extremely negative impact on people to people exchanges between Europe and China between China and the rest of the world, including these kind of person interactions between researchers of both sides. Today's conference is fortunately a step in the right direction.
It coincides with a steady resumption of in-person high-level dialogues and political meetings between the EU and China, between China and the rest of the world. Just 10 days ago, High Representative vice president Borrell visited China and co-chaired with Foreign Minister Wang Yi the 12th EU-China Strategic Dialogue.
Let me make a few remarks on the importance of the EU-China Think Tank Exchanges which we are determined to promote to take them back to the level they had before the pandemic, and even to a higher level. Because think tanks are one of the most powerful engines of knowledge, innovation, and policy formulation. And I must say both in the European Union, and in China, I have personally witnessed how important think tanks are in China for policy formulation. They provide you provide valuable insights, research and recommendations that shape the decisions of government, businesses, and civil society. And you are civil society. So you feed your civil society. You are the representative of civil society, which feed policy formulation for governments. You also serve as bridges between academia, policymakers and the public. And you facilitate a deeper understanding of complex issues and the development of well informed policies.
The EU and China face a multitude of global challenges such as climate change, security issues, conflicts and wars, like the war, the Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, but also, unfortunately, the very recent war in the Middle East again. We are also facing an imbalanced economic relation with China, the EU and China. Especially when it comes to trade. These challenges as difficult as they are demand cooperative solutions, fostering exchanges between think tanks from the EU and China in the sense can be extremely useful as a platform for effective collaboration.
Think tanks promote mutual understanding, while the EU and China have different political systems, different economic models, and different cultural backgrounds, it is important to recognize the areas where our interests even sometimes our values converge. These intersections exist. And by facilitating dialogue, we can identify common ground shared experiences and build trust.
Secondly, think tanks exchanges provide an opportunity for robust, robust, evidence-based discussions. They pool resources, expertise, and data. So think tanks from both sides can conduct joint research and analysis that is objective and impartial. This collaborative research can help address global issues like climate change, again, sustainable development, public health, ensuring that the best available knowledge is at the heart of policymaking.
Furthermore, think tank exchanges can lead to innovative solutions. Our world is changing rapidly and traditional models and approaches often fall short. By bringing together experts from the EU and China, we can generate fresh ideas and unconventional solutions out of the box solutions to tackle today's challenges. These new ideas can redefine the boundaries of cooperation and innovation, enabling us to create a better future together.
But, there is always a but, it is essential to approach these exchanges with openness and transparency. I have to note with regret, that some of the development, the recent development in China run counter to the benefits of I just described of free and open exchanges between civil society and between think tanks. And I'm talking, for instance, of the difficulties we are encountering for foreign experts, for European experts to research in China, something that has become more difficult recently that is encountering with more bureaucratic obstacles for these exchanges, and I'm also talking about the national security inspired legislation, like the recent counter-espionage law, or the extremely rigid requirements for data transfer, which we are trying to make more flexible in our exchanges with the Chinese government.
But let me turn briefly to the EU-China relations as we see now and for 2024. As I already said the High Representative Vice President had held last 10 days ago with Director of Foreign Minister Wang Yi, his strategic dialogue firsthand in person in his tenure as a high representative. This followed some other important exchanges between the EU and China. And it was one of the high level dialogues that we held this year. We also held in July the high level dialogue on climate and environment with executive vice president Timmermans, the high level digital dialogue with Vice President Jourova at the beginning of September, and the high-level economic and trade dialogue with executive vice president Dombrovskis. Four Vice Presidents of the Commission have visited China in the last three months, plus two commissioners. And these in-person exchanges were inaugurated by President of the European Council Charles Michel on the first of December, even before the pandemic restrictions were lifted, and were followed by the President of the Commission von der Leyen in April. So we are re-engaging with China and this is good. We have our differences, but we have not narrowed the differences we have yet. And at least we are engaging much more frequently.
As High Representative vice president repeatedly told his Chinese interlocutors that China and the EU are partners, competitors, and also systemic rivals. Chinese interlocutors always tell us and told Vice President Borrell and all our visitors from the Commission here that they don't like the word systemic rivals. But unfortunately, we are indeed also rivals, we are partners, we are competitors. But we are also systemic rivals because we have different systems. But as I am saying, recently, this is a description. This is not a strategy. This is a description of the facts, that we are partners that we are competitors, and that we are rivals. We Are Rivals because our values and benefits are different on many subjects, including democracy, the universal character of human rights.
This way in which we as Europeans view our relationship with China will probably not change in 2024. But we are systemic rivals, we are competitors. And we are partners, we are partners in very important issues that we have to solve together. And our partnership in climate, in fight against climate change, in protection of biodiversity in, the protection of the environment is going rather well. We have a very good coordination, we have a very good cooperation. And there are other global issues in which we can partner in which we are partners. One of them, for instance, is global health, but other even international issues that are conflictual issues where we can partner.
We are competitors, especially when it comes to trade. And when it comes to investment, we are trying to get to a more level playing field because we feel that there is no level playing field, we reached the highest trade deficit in the history last year. And we believe that this is not only because China will recognize it makes very good products at very good prices, but because we find market access barriers that we have to solve, to get to a level playing field.
But what we hope is that China understands that being rivals, and values and systems does not mean that we are enemies. We want China to understand that the European Union is not afraid of China's rise, nor does it want to stand in its way. On the contrary, we would like China to become more involved in collective effort to tackle global issues with us and we are doing that like climate change I said, but also on important issues, like restructuring the debt of developing countries.
The future of EU-China relations in 2024 is marked by a complex interplay of economic interdependence, where we will press ahead seeking, as I said, a more balanced relation, seeking to cooperate on global challenges, and certainly, on security issues, like the war of aggression on Ukraine, waged by Russia. In this sense, let me stress as I always do, with my Chinese interlocutors that China's position, China's reputation, China's image in Europe, is being extremely negatively affected by its position on this war of aggression, which is, you can read the newspaper, never called in China war of aggression, not even the words we use are the same. In any case, the relationship between the EU and China is essential, not only for our own prosperity, but also for the stability and progress of our interconnected world.
So to sum up, I wish you a fruitful discussion for the first time in four years in person. This is essential for us, policy makers, policy implementers that we need you to meet in person to develop a relationship and to feed us with the results of your research and the results of your collaboration. Let me end by expressing sincere thanks to Fabian and his team in EPC [European Policy Centre], to Henry and his team at CCG [Center for China and Globalization] for making today's event possible. Thank you very much. (ENDITEM)
Speech by President Wu Hailong at the 8th China Global Think Tank Innovation Forum — “China-EU Relations: A Retrospective and Prospective”
(October 24, 2023)
This is my first time at a CCG forum because I am keenly interested in today’s topic of discussion. Although my professional focus hasn't been exclusively centered on China-EU relations in recent years, I have kept a watchful eye on its development– it's become somewhat of a personal attachment, you might say.
I believe there is a discernible disparity between how China and the EU perceive their relationship. China often emphasizes the positive aspects, whereas the EU appears to place greater emphasis on the negative facets.
Today, I’d like to share my personal insights regarding matters of China-EU relations, as highlighted in the speech by Mr. Josep Borrell, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, at Peking University a few days ago.
I strongly resonate with Mr. Borrell’s statement in his speech that “We need to work with China, just as China needs to work with us. That is all the more necessary since the world in which we live has become both more interdependent and more conflictual.”
I believe China has always adopted a proactive stance in advancing cooperation with Europe. For the past 20 years, China has regarded the EU as a comprehensive strategic partner, recognized Europe as a significant force in a multipolar world, and steadfastly supported the process of European integration. China has emphasized repeatedly that there are no fundamental conflicts of interest between China and the EU, where consensus far outweighs disagreements and collaboration far outweighs competition. This viewpoint was reiterated by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during the 12th round China-EU High-Level Strategic Dialogue a dozen days ago.
China's actions have aligned with its words. For instance, China wasted no time in offering assistance during the European debt crisis more than ten years ago. When Europe struggled with a severe shortage of supplies due to COVID, the China-Europe Railway Express managed to maintain a continuous flow of goods, making over ten thousand trips annually. China has also assisted European countries in building ports, roads, railways, and bridges, resolving issues that have persisted for generations.
Some argue that China's actions are geopolitically motivated to divide Europe. But is that truly the case? There is categorically no trace of geostrategic competition between China and Europe, nor are there fundamental conflicts of interest between them. China has not at all attempted to influence the European system with its own, nor has it exported its ideologies and values to Europe. Where then, does geopolitical motivation stem from? The cooperation and collaborative mechanisms between China and some European countries are based on voluntarism and are conducted under the principles of equality, mutual benefit, and win-win cooperation. They are also open, transparent, and inclusive. Decades of practice have demonstrated: to this day, has China made any attempt to divide Europe? Has China instigated discord between European countries and the European Union? No, not at all! Moreover, China has never issued any policy documents expressing negative attitudes towards relations with Europe.
European countries' policies towards China, on the other hand, stand in sharp contrast with China's policy towards Europe. Over recent years, Europe has made substantial adjustments to its approach to China. Be it the policy documents from the EU or its member states like Germany and France, there is a prevailing negative tone that underscores the "adversary" aspect in their relations with China, emphasizing "de-risking" and positioning the China-EU relationship as partners, competitors, and systemic rivals. Europe has articulated, time after time, their so-called triptych for China, but it is unconvincing and is not accepted by China.
Mr. Borrell, in his speech at Peking University, elaborated once again on why the EU designates China as a "systemic rival." He believed that fundamentally different views on human rights have made China and the EU adversaries in this context. He even identified the "incompatibility of values" as the root cause of this issue, a rationale that raises questions much like the previous one. The differences between China and Europe on human rights issues have existed for a long time, not just in recent years. And yet, China and the EU have always had dialogues and communications on human rights issues. Why wasn’t China regarded as an adversary in the past due to human rights issues, but is seen as one now?
Explanations such as the "incompatibility of values" or "different social systems" are self-contradictory. China's core socialist values are encapsulated in 24 characters, namely "prosperity, democracy, civility, harmony, freedom, equality, justice, rule of law, patriotism, dedication, integrity, and friendship." I believe the EU can subscribe to these 24 characters, right? There isn't any incompatibility in this regard, is there? As for China's social system, it was established in 1949 when the People's Republic of China was founded, and European countries have recognized our system. A few years ago, when I was serving as China's ambassador to the EU, I often heard from my European counterparts that "China and Europe are an excellent example of cooperation under different systems." How did this perception evolve into one of systemic rivalry? In his speech at Peking University, Mr. Borrell also referred to China-EU relations as "conflictual interdependence." I do not think this description is accurate. While there are indeed differences between China and Europe, and at times, these differences can be quite pronounced, I do not believe they amount to "conflict." After all, could these two entities still be considered interdependent if there were genuine conflicts? Clearly, this statement is contradictory and illogical.
In his speech, Mr. Borrell lamented the trade imbalance between China and the EU, stating that this imbalance continues to worsen. He attributed this issue to the "long-term difficulties faced by European companies entering the Chinese market." According to him, European investments in China have seen a sharp downturn, reaching their lowest level since 2018. He noted that there are hardly any new entrants in the Chinese market.
I believe there are many factors contributing to the trade deficit between China and Europe, and it cannot be solely attributed to the market entry obstacles that the European side cites. China has a strong desire to purchase many European products, especially high-tech items, but is Europe willing to sell? Chinese enterprises have a strong willingness to invest and merge with European entities, but the EU has set up numerous hurdles, particularly the FDI screening mechanism targeted at China. This mechanism has discouraged Chinese enterprises from investing and partnering with European counterparts, resulting in a sharp decline in Chinese investments in Europe.
Mr. Borrell mentioned the sharp decline in European investments in China and the absence of new investors. I believe this is due to European enterprises harboring pessimism regarding the prospects of China-EU relations. Consequently, they are adopting a cautious "wait-and-see" approach. This outlook is directly linked to the negative policies that Europe has embraced in its relationship with China. Europe has persistently emphasized "de-risking" with China, prioritizing security concerns over economic benefits. In such a scenario, who would dare to invest and do business in China? Therefore, when it comes to problems in China's economic and trade relations, Europe must not seek issues only outside of its borders but also engage in introspection. Imagine if Europe could adopt a positive and friendly policy towards China, and if the EU could approve the "EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment", I believe a large number of European enterprises would flock to China, and many economic and trade issues between China and Europe would be resolved.
Regarding "de-risking," Mr. Borrell provided many explanations in his speech, believing it to be a measure taken to protect the EU's economy. He stressed that it was not taken for political reasons and not a hostile measure against China. Mr. Borrell also indicated that China had expressed similar views. In fact, it is well understood that in any country, enterprises need to have a risk management awareness when engaging in business, trade, and investments; this is a common-sense, understandable practice. However, if de-risking is adopted as a national policy in dealing with a country, and is explicitly directed at a particular country, it transcends being merely a commercial or economic common sense issue, and becomes a political issue; moreover, it becomes a national policy characterized by unfriendliness and distrust towards that country. Such an approach would severely constrain and hinder cooperation between the two sides. The Chinese government has never spoken about "de-risking" with Europe, and China will not do so in the future.
In his address, Mr. Borrell mentioned "China’s ambivalent position with regard to both Ukraine and Russia has been difficult to understand" and "This refusal to choose between the aggressor and the victim has not gone down well in Europe." China has a clear attitude and stance on the Russia-Ukrainian conflict, with its own clear understanding and judgments on the roots of this conflict. Europe cannot impose its stance on others, nor can it practice "double standards." The United States has numerous instances of violating the United Nations Charter and invading other countries. Has Europe publicly denounced these actions? It's not uncommon for Europe to exhibit selective silence, selective disregard, and selective deafness on major international events. Therefore, when it comes to the Russia-Ukrainian conflict, China needs no instructions from Europe; China knows its own course of action.
Mr. Borrell also specifically mentioned the Taiwan question and the EU's position on the Taiwan question, the key point being "no recognition of Taiwan as an independent state." The Taiwan question is the core of China's core interests and holds significant relevance in China-EU relations. However, in recent years, some European countries have repeatedly crossed the "red line" of the "One China principle", persisting in developing official relations with Taiwan and escalating the official level of interactions with Taiwan. This is an offense against China's sovereignty and interference in China's internal affairs. China cannot tolerate these actions and deems it imperative to issue stern warnings and respond assertively.
However, the EU and some European countries have characterized China's warnings and reactions as "coercion" and "intimidation," which is obviously a distortion of facts and a failure to distinguish right from wrong. f someone were to undermine the core interests of the EU or its member states, would you not issue warnings and respond robustly? If labeled as "coercive" and "intimidating" for such actions, would you readily accept it? I hope that the EU will learn to put itself in China’s shoes when managing its relations with China.
I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Borrell's proposition in his speech that trust needs to be restored between China and the EU. Trust begins with cultural exchanges between the two parties. The convoluted changes in the international landscape, the three-year blockade caused by the pandemic, and the respective changes in China and Europe have resulted in a significant deficit of mutual understanding and trust erosion between the two sides. Both sides should overcome various difficulties and actively promote dialogues and exchanges across diverse fields and at multiple levels, especially people-to-people exchanges. Exchanges will surely draw the two sides closer, narrow the differences, and contribute to mutual understanding and trust.
I have strong confidence in the development of China-European relations. In my view, there isn't much disagreement and conflict between China and Europe, let alone fundamental conflicts of interest. It's entirely possible to seek common ground while reserving differences, mutually depend on each other, and achieve mutual benefit and win-win outcomes. I personally, and the China Public Diplomacy Association where I work will commit to promoting the development of friendly relations between the peoples of China and Europe. Finally, I hope that this discussion can achieve positive results and reach more consensus. Thank you, everyone! [ENDITEM]
Video (in Chinese)
Audio (in Chinese)
One day earlier, at the 8th China Global Think Tank Innovation Forum in Beijing on Monday, October 23, 2023, co-organized by the Center for China and Globalization (CCG) and the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC), held at the same venue: