"Facing the COVID-19 crisis, China and Europe should join hands" (complete version)


  • We are really privileged. I have to say (I am) very honored to have a brilliant collection of seven panelists from all over Europe and Asia to talk about Europe-Asia relations where I’ve pointed out to the strong bonds between Europe and Asia.

    It’s very nice to(have you) join me today to have a look at Europe-Asia relations today, the trade side, the political side, the geopolitical side, also the people-to-people contacts in this world of covid-19 and whereas we look into the recovery, the post covid-19 recovery.

    The situation at the moment, as you know, is quite tense. China and the US are entangled in a trade war, a tech war and there are acrimonious words being exchanged. But at the same time Europe and Asia are building bridges, working together, signing free-trade agreements, having strategic conversations, talking about security. So there is a plethora of ideas and conversations that are going on and that are often and not reported in the mainstream media also in Asia or in Europe. So let’s delve deeper into this relationship. Let’s look at what works and let’s look at what doesn’t work and how to make it better.

    The question to you is, you know the dominant narrative here in Europe and I will not use the word ‘the West’, because I do believe, as far as I accept that Europe and America are different. The dominant narrative really is that it’s not an ‘Asian Century’and it’s really a ‘China Century’. Here we are talking about the wider networks. Your thoughts please, Lirong?

    First of all, I would like to share with you some information from the ongoing annual sessions of National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Apart from the domestic agenda, on the international front, strong messages are sent out.

    The first one, Covid-19 is an unprecedented crisis and the virus respects no borders or races and poses challenges to all human beings without distinction. So it requires that all countries should join hands in fighting the virus. China has been doing so as much as we can and we are willing to go further on, to work together with other countries. We have established, for example, joint mechanism with the Republic of Korea for prevention and control of the virus and we have also set up, joint group of experts, Chinese European together. We have held more than 160 visual conferences with medical experts of other countries, and we have also supported the Covid-19 response in 150 countries and international organizations. Because we think the virus is our common enemy, and if we don’t beat the virus, no country is safe.

    Second, the Chinese economy was heavily hit by the Covid-19. We suffered a lot but now the situation is under control and the production has been largely resumed. Apart from doing our own contribution to the world economy, we would also like to work together with other countries to stabilize the global economy. I quite agree that the world will not be the same as before, but the globalization will move on as much as the multilateralism. In this respect I think regional organizations like ASEM and EU and international organizations like the United Nations, WTO and the economic organizations will have a bigger role to play. We do hope that we can sign the RCEP agreement in the year We do hope that we can sign the RCEP agreement as  well as  the Bilateral Investment Treaty between China and Europe within the year.

    So I think we have to move on and no country can insulate itself from the global challenge or refrain from its international responsibilities and we have to work together.

    Mr. (Zhang)Lirong, let me come back to you and also ask you, a lot of focus on China, a lot of acrimony, a lot of blame games targeting China, but China also being more self-assertive, and more self-confident and slightly diplomatically awkward at some moments. How do you see this relationship moving forward and to answer also the questions about ASEM Asia-Europe meeting? Where do you think we should be focusing when we go forward? Is it the Digital Silk Road? Is it the Health Silk Road? Please.

    I would like to start to answer the question raised a few minutes ago, if it will be a ‘China Century ’or ‘Asian Century’. I wouldn't call it a ‘China Century’ but I do see lots of changes are taking place, great changes in the world which we haven’t seen before. But whatever changes taking place or how strong China will be, China will not replace the U.S. as the leading country in the world or dominating country. China will not pursue hegemony even when China becomes the biggest economy in the world.

    Regarding the current Sino-American relationship, we see it is worsening from month to month which we are not happy to see. We don't think that China and the U.S. should be confrontational. We should work together because we live in the same world. No matter how big changes taking place, China will play a constructive and positive role on the international arena.  And we are not happy to see that some Americans or some American politicians would like to start a “new cold war” against China, maybe out of the strategic intentions or election considerations. But it’s not good for Sino-American relations neither for the whole world, because in that situation, as Joe mentioned, other countries probably have to choose sides, which is not beneficial for either China nor America or other countries. We didn't start the process, talking about the decoupling or the disinformation war against China. We have seen so many slandering remarks on China which do not align with the truth. So whatever happens I think China will like to see that the U.S. comes back to the world family and takes its responsibilities. But at the same time, we support the principle of multilateralism as the EU does. That’s because we think we are living in a changing world. Every country should be equal and the big decisions should be reached through consultation and discussion among countries. 

    With regard to China-Europe relations, I would tell that this year marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the EU. In the last decades, although there were ups and downs, we’ve made remarkable achievements in our relationship. The EU has over many years been the biggest trading partner of China amounting to 680 billion U.S. dollars last year, and we have a lot of potentials to exploit in the future. If we say there are a thousand reasons for a good China-US relationship, I would say there are a thousand and one reasons for a better China-Europe relationship. That extra point is we both support multilateralism and that’s our common ground. We share similar and same views on many international issues, like upholding the authority of the United Nations and other international organizations, climate change and UN 2030 sustainable development agenda. So I think China and EU and Asia and EU should play a bigger role on the international arena. In respect of ASEM, which represents actually more than half of the world GDP and 60% of the world population and trade, should be one of the major cornerstones of the global governance in the future, against the backdrop that the U.S. has withdrawn from so many organizations. Lastly, I would say I do support the idea of Digital Silk Road and we can exploit possibilities and I think Asia and Europe should learn from each other and work together. Thank you.

    Friends and colleagues, thank you very much for joining this. I think (it’s an) absolutely brilliant conversation and what I loved about it also is the positive note in it.I think in these dark and dangerous times, it’s the positivity and the constructive approach rather than these geopolitical blame games that is a winner frankly in the name of humanity. With you seven brilliant people, we’ve focused on regionalism, the growing importance of regions in supply chains as well as in cooperation, but that doesn't exclude multilateral contacts and building a multilateral order. It has to be an inclusive multilateral order we have to work, and we have to compete. But as many of you have said, issue-based leadership is going to be the way forward. Wise leadership will matter even more than ever before.

    We’ve talked about the importance of health. I think inevitably health issues, health infrastructure, the fragilities of our health structures and how we can improve them but also free movement, lowering tariffs on medical products not holding protective gear, sharing and allowing doctors, nurses…

    The digital issue, we are now together, in fact we couldn't be doing this if we didn't have digital technology at our fingertips. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. But we have the ethics and we have a digital divide. It’s not just a north-south east-west divide. It is a societal divide and we haven’t talked about how women are often not part of the story, so we need to reshape and redesign the multilateral order and all of you have focused on that.

    We've also focused on the need for global governance, better forms of global governance. One thing that struck me and I think all of you have said this, is the need to learn from each other. We have to now drop all pretense at knowing it at all, (cause)we don't know it at all; and we have pockets of knowledge that sometimes all of us do not tap into, because we’re part of geopolitical blame games and I think this is something that all of us have also stressed over and over again and we have to free ourselves of this rivalry. It is destructive and it’s not working for humanity or for the nations either.

    So let’s put the public good, the common public good in front when we talk about the way forward and there all of you have said it and I believe it very, very sincerely, (and)very passionately. The Asia-Europe meeting, the Asia-Europe connection is vital. So let’s make this time more than ever before. Let’s make it work and let’s turn it into really a part of the new global governance system.

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