New dynamic for China-EU ties

Updated: 2012-05-02 11:12

By Jiang shixue (China Daily)

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Though relations are steadily progressing, there are still some obstacles that need to be overcome for further development

There is an obvious law in international relations that when bilateral relations are progressing, reciprocal visits by top leaders are frequent; but when bilateral relations are cool, such exchange visits are rarely seen.

The frequent exchange visits by the leaders of China and European nations since 2009 demonstrate that China-EU relations have cast off the discord of 2008, and are now steadily progressing.

Undoubtedly, Premier Wen Jiabao's official visits to Iceland, Sweden and Poland and his attendance at the opening ceremony of Hannover Messe in Germany on April 20 will inject vitality into the development of China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership.

Wen's European tour is significant for several reasons.

First, Wen's visit to Iceland is the first by a Chinese premier to the country since China and Iceland established diplomatic ties 41 years ago; his visit to Sweden is the first visit by a Chinese premier in 28 years; his visit to Poland is the first by Chinese premier in 25 years and the first visit by a Chinese national leader since the two countries established their strategic partnership at the end of last year. The fact that Wen met German Chancellor Angela Merkel just two months after he received her in Beijing in February shows the importance and maturity of China-German strategic partnership.

Second, Wen's European trip will help to boost confidence that Europe will be able to overcome its debt crisis, which has had an enormous negative effect on the European, and indeed the global, economy. China has made it clear that it is willing to help Europe to weather the storm and is convinced that Europe will be able to overcome the crisis. Certainly, without China's helping hand, the European debt crisis might be even more serious. Although Wen's European tour did not focus on how China will "save" Europe, his visits have promoted bilateral economic and trade relations between China and Iceland, Sweden, Poland and Germany, and will help alleviate the debt crisis in Europe.

Third, the trip is conducive to the development of the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership. Iceland is the first West European country to recognize China's market economy status, and also the first European country to start free trade negotiations with China. During his visit to Iceland, the two countries signed agreements ranging from furthering Arctic cooperation to cooperation in marine and polar science and technology, as well as collaboration on geothermal energy and geosciences.

In recent years, cooperation between China and Sweden in the fields of trade, investment and environmental protection has grown dramatically. Sweden is China's eighth largest trade partner and third largest source of technology imports from the EU. China is Sweden's largest trade partner in Asia.

The bilateral relations between China and Poland have enjoyed sound development. Their pragmatic cooperation in all fields has grown rapidly since the establishment of strategic partnership between the two countries at the end of last year. Poland is the first country in Central and Eastern Europe whose annual trade volume with China exceeds $10 billion.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of China-Germany diplomatic relations. During his visit, Premier Wen and German Chancellor Merkel held talks and jointly attended the opening ceremonies of the Hannover Messe 2012 and China-Germany Business Summit.

Wen's visit consolidated the bilateral ties and further strengthened business exchanges between the two countries. It also broadened the bilateral practical cooperation in the fields of machinery manufacturing, energy conservation and environmental protection.

However, it should be noted that though China-EU relations are steadily progressing, there are some obstacles that need to be overcome. For example, the EU has still not yet recognized China's market economy status. In addition, although China's expanding investment in Europe is mutually beneficial, some European media and think tanks are prejudiced against China's investments in Europe. While commenting on a Chinese private entrepreneur's plan to buy a vast tract of Icelandic land for a tourism project, the Financial Times said the deal could give Beijing a strategic foothold in the North Atlantic and that the project could provide cover for China's geopolitical interests. Icelandic Interior Minister Ogmundur Jonasson wrote on his website that China was known for its "long term thinking alongside buying up the world."

A report published by the European Council on Foreign Relations in July 2011, "The Scramble for Europe", made carping comments about China's expanding investment in Europe, stating that China is buying up Europe.

Europeans know very little about China, while Chinese people have little knowledge of Europe; the mutual misperceptions result in unnecessary misunderstandings.

Of course, to enhance mutual understanding and trust is easier said than done. But the two sides cannot just wait and hope for the best, they must make greater efforts to communicate and have frequent and timely contact at all levels and in all areas. In this process, Europe should respect China's path of development and understand the level of China's development. China, for its part, should be more open-minded and listen to justified criticism and try to overcome misunderstandings and prejudice.

The author is deputy director of the Institute of European Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.