Chinese President Xi Jinping and European Council President Charles Michel on October 15 voiced a commitment to enhance bilateral ties and uphold multilateralism in the post-pandemic era.
Xi’s phone conversation with Michel came only two days after his meeting via video link with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country is a key member of the European Union (EU). The almost back-to-back top-level exchanges between Chinese and EU leaders have demonstrated a political consensus to ensure that the bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership remains on the right track.
As the world grapples a raging COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting global economic fallout, climate change and regional unrest, Xi and Michel discussed how China and the EU could work together to fortify relations and benefit the world.
First, China and the EU should strengthen strategic communications. In recent months, the relationship between China and the EU has been shaky at best, with ill-intentioned Western politicians and the press demonizing China’s human rights records while turning a blind eye to the human rights abuses in their own backyard.
With different histories, cultures, social systems, and stages of development, it comes as no surprise that the two sides don’t see eye to eye on every issue. As two comprehensive strategic partners, China and the EU should stay committed to dialogue and mutual respect and understand each other’s core interests.
Furthermore, opportunity lies in advancing trade and economic ties, with the Chinese and EU economies more interconnected than ever before. In 2020, China became the EU’s largest trading partner. In the first eight months of this year, trade between the two sides increased by 32.4 percent year on year, a vivid reflection of the resilience of bilateral trade against the backdrop of the pandemic.
The China-Europe freight-train service is another highlight of bilateral cooperation. The freight-train service has boosted fragile supply chains in Eurasian countries, saving businesses in both China and Europe while facilitating efforts to combat the pandemic. A stronger economic relationship doesn’t merely benefit China and the EU, it stabilizes the global economy.
Apart from boosting trade and economic cooperation, the two sides could work together to bolster the green and digital credentials of their economies in order to build new engines of growth and actively synergize the Belt and Road Initiative with the global EU Connectivity Strategy.
As two important players on the world stage, China and the EU should also work together to ensure a peaceful and prosperous world. For that to happen, the EU should join China in advancing multilateralism against the headwind of rising protectionism and isolationism, and jointly addressing some of the world’s most pressing planetary challenges, including global warming, the pandemic, and terrorism.
A lack of development has been the source of deep-seated problems torturing the developing world and least developed countries. The pandemic is further widening the wealth gap around the globe. The EU can work with China to do more to shrink the world’s development deficits.
In a statement delivered via video link at the general debate of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly in September, President Xi proposed a Global Development Initiative to steer development around the world towards more balanced, coordinated, and inclusive growth in face of the severe shocks of COVID-19.
The EU is welcome to join the initiative and work together with China and others to help developing countries achieve the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development at an early date.
China has always been sincere in bolstering its strategic partnership with the EU. In turn, Brussels should work with Beijing to properly handle any differences and promote their common interests. In this age of global interdependence, a strong China-EU partnership stands to benefit the world.