Understand the Goal of Building a New Type of International Relations and a Communitywith a Shared Future for Mankind in China’s Diplomacy from the Perspective of China-EU Relations

By Mei Zhaorong

In his report to the 19th CPC National Congress, General Secretary Xi Jinping made a comprehensive plan for the tasks and direction of China’s diplomacy in the new era. On the one hand, diplomacy should serve domestic development by providing strong external support for the attainment of two centenary goals. He pointed out clearly that the basic dimension of the Chinese context—that our country is still and will long remain in the primary stage of socialism—has not changed and China’s international status as the world’s largest developing country has not changed. Development remains the top priority in China’s revitalization endeavors. Thus, to serve development is and will be an important mission of the major-country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. As China’s economy has been transitioning from a phase of rapid growth to a stage of high-quality development, in line with the new development vision, diplomacy should serve developing a modernized economy, pursuing opening up in an all-round way, facilitating the economic transitioning from high-speed growth to high-quality development and maintaining China’s expanding overseas interests. On the other hand, China should take a more active approach to contribute to the world development and play a better role as a responsible country in international affairs, closely binding the well-being of the Chinese people with that of the people around the world. China needs to shoulder its due international obligations in the spirit of internationalism, make its voice better heard in major issues bearing on world peace and development and offer Chinese wisdom and a Chinese approach to global governance. 

To achieve the above-mentioned two tasks, it has been proposed in the report of the 19th CPC National Congress that efforts should be made to build a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind, which has been clearly identified as the overarching goal of China’s diplomacy in the new era. The goal of building a new type of international relations is to pursue a new path of country-to-country exchanges, the core of which features mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation. Mutual respect means opposing interference in internal affairs of other countries and imposition of one’s own will on others. Fairness and justice refer to opposition to the law of jungle in which the strong bully the weak. Win-win cooperation means opposing zero-sum games and winner-taking-all practice. The departure point of building a community with a shared future for mankind is that since mankind has only one earth and all countries live in the same world, people from around the globe living in different cultures, races, religions and social systems should share the awareness of sticking together through thick and thin. The core of building a community with a shared future for mankind is to build an open, inclusive, clean, and beautiful world that enjoys lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity. This is an extension worldwide of the five-sphere integrated plan for China’s domestic development covering economic, political, cultural, social and ecological fields. It goes along with the trend of human progress and common aspirations of most of countries and offers a Chinese approach to solving various global issues. 

It must be made clear that building a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind is not to completely overturn the current international order and start something new. Instead, it is designed to fundamentally honor the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. It maintains the consistency and stability of China’s foreign policy and demonstrates that China’s diplomacy keeps abreast with the times with its advanced nature and innovativeness. In terms of consistency, it shows that China is committed to a path of peaceful development, holding high the banner of peace, development and cooperation for win-win outcomes and complying with the purposes of China’s diplomacy for maintaining world peace and promoting common development. It also preserves China’s nature as a country that unswervingly pursues friendship and cooperation with all other countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, seeks no hegemony or expansion and contributes to promoting world peace and development and maintaining the international order. In terms of innovativeness, it demonstrates the latest achievements of innovation in diplomatic theories and practice since the 18th CPC National Congress. For instance, efforts have been made to make integrated planning for diplomacy involving major countries, China’s neighbors and other developing countries in line with the principle of building global partnerships rather than alliances. On global governance, the Belt and Road Initiative has been proposed to build a major platform of international cooperation. The principle of amity, sincerity, mutual benefit, and inclusiveness has been followed to guide China’s relations with its neighbors and the principle of upholding justice while pursuing shared interests and the principle of sincerity, real results, affinity, and good faith have been followed to steer China’s ties with other developing countries. New visions on governance, security and development have provided guidance for the work in multilateral areas. 

From China’s perspective, the international landscape is undergoing major development, transformation and adjustment. Peace and development remain the theme of the times, but the balance of power is going through profound changes. Global challenges keep cropping up, the international security situation is facing severe challenges and in particular, relations among major countries have become more complex due to increased competitive elements. In relative terms, China and the European Union, as two major forces, two major markets and two major civilizations in the world, have enjoyed stable relations despite some rows and frictions. This is attributable to various factors. First, China and the EU do not have direct geopolitical conflicts or historical issues. China has given firm and consistent support to European integration and wants to see a stable, united and prosperous Europe. On their part, European countries have been committed to the One China principle. Second, China and the EU are highly complementary to each other in their economies with their respective strengths and demands. They enjoy vast potential and space for cooperation and strong impetus for pursuing win-win outcomes. In particular, rapid economic development of China has not only contributed to 30% of the world economic growth, that of Europe included, but also offered it a vast market with constantly elevated purchasing power and an investment destination with favorable returns. A telling example is that around 30% of German-made cars are sold to China and 37% of profits in the German auto industry have been from China. Third, both China and the EU need a peaceful and stable environment for development and share considerable common grounds on major international issues. For example, they both stand for settling international disputes by peaceful means and oppose willful use of force or threats with force. Both are in favor of multilateralism and against hegemonism and power politics and place importance on the role of international institutions such as the United Nations and World Trade Organization. Both support advancing economic globalization, trade liberalization and investment facilitation and adhere to the Paris Climate Agreement. Fourth, both China and the EU have rich and splendid cultural resources. As their economic cooperation is developing dynamically and political relations are increasingly close, strengthening cultural and people-to-people exchanges have become a natural aspiration and trend for the peoples of China and the EU to promote better mutual understanding and enrich their respective spiritual world. Fifth, global issues that keep emerging need global governance. No country can remain immune from or resolve these issues on its own. Instead, only when the international community works in concert can it effectively tackle all these challenges. China and the EU have reached consensus on this increasingly.  

Thanks to the aforementioned favorable factors, the relations between China and the EU have made remarkable progress, delivering tangible benefits to both sides. To sum up, the achievments are mainly in the following aspects: first, there have been frequent high-level exchange of visits and communications, indicating that both sides attach great importance to their relations, keep injecting new impetus into their cooperation and lead the relations to develop sustainably into greater depth and width. Second, economic cooperation and trade have been fruitful, serving as an important backing and anchor for China-EU relations. The EU has for years remained China’s largest trading partner, the largest import source and second largest export market, while China has been EU’s second largest trading partner, the largest import source and second largest export market. In 2017 China-EU trade volume totaled US$616.92 billion, up by 12.7% year-on-year and accounting for 15% of China’s foreign trade. Two-way investment has been robust. In 2016, the EU’s investment in China grew by 35%. Though it slid by 5.9% in 2017, China’s investment in the EU went up by 3.8%. The EU’s investment in China has reached US$120.2 billion and China’s investment in the EU has grown to US$79.2 billion, visibly narrowing the gap between the two sides. The EU has also been the largest source of technology introduction for China in cumulative terms. Third, China and the EU have established around 70 consultation and dialogue mechanisms. The four most important dialogue mechanisms, i.e., the China-EU Summit, the China-EU High Level Strategic Dialogue, the China-EU High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue and the China-EU High Level People-to-People Dialogue, have made major contribution to communicating each other’s positions and views, promoting mutual understanding and facilitating mutually beneficial exchanges and win-win cooperation. Fourth, the two sides have agreed to synergize the Belt and Road Initiative and the Investment Plan for Europe and build five major cooperation platforms, namely, the China-EU Mutual Investment Fund, the China-EU Connectivity Platform, the China-EU Legal Affairs Dialogue, the Digital Cooperation Platform and Facilitation of People-to-People Exchanges. Progress has been made in all these areas to varying degrees. Certain agreements have been reached in areas such as the establishment of mutual investment fund and the connectivity platform, mutual waivering of short-term stay visas for diplomatic passport holders and China’s approval of the EU’s openning of visa centers in 15 Chinese cities. In addition, China-EU cooperation in energy conservation and emission reduction, urbanization, finance, scientific innovation and people-to-people exchanges has developed from strength to strength. The number of Confucius Institutes build by China in 28 EU countries has grown to 138 with 257 Confucius Classrooms. A total of 300,000 Chinese students now study in EU member states and over 45,000 students from the EU countries study in China. The year 2016 saw exchange of 6.59 million visits, in which 3.46 million visits were made from China to the EU and 3.13 million visits were the other way around.  

Just like every coin has two sides, though the mainstream of China-EU relations is to cooperate for win-win outcomes, it is natural that the two sides have divergent views and even disputes on certain issues due to their differences in ideologies, social and political systems, development stages and interests. What merits special attention is that  some Europeans who are used to taking a condescending attitude to developing countries have their minds twisted as the momentums of economic development in China and the EU increasingly differ and in particular, as China has continued to enjoy rapid economic growth with ever-growing technology, product competitiveness and increased attention from the international community to the advanced nature of China’s political system. They try to prevent China from competing with the EU and as a result, problems and frictions between China and the EU show a certain upward trend. Certainly, it needs to be pointed out that Europe is not a monolithic block. Different EU countries have different bilateral ties with China. Therefore, the abovementioned problems and frictions mainly involve some countries and forces that have important influence on and play a leading role in the EU’s decision-making. In essence, the problems and frictions concern the norms and visions guiding state-to-state relations. Among them, the most prominent ones are as follows:

(I) Whether to follow the principle of mutual respect and seeking common ground while putting aside differences. We Chinese believe that we should face squarely and recognize the diversity of the world. Both China and the EU shall determine their respective development paths and formulate policies in line with their national realities and the will of their peoples. Neither side should attempt to change the other side or interfere in the other’s internal affairs with its own values, still less to undermine the other’s core interests such as sovereignty, security, territorial integrity and the right to development. All these are widely recognized norms governing international relations. However, it is hard to understand that some Europeans from countries boasting themselves as models of rule of law, in blatant violation of these norms, made irresponsible remarks on and even interfered in China’s internal affairs, acting as if they represented universal values. For example, at a football match between China and Germany held in the latter not long ago, some Germans held political banners in support of splitting Tibet from China, a move that runs counter to international rules. When China lodged solemn representations against it, the organizer defended such an act under the excuse of freedom of expression. When Chinese judicial authorities detained in accordance with the law a Chinese Swedish who broke the law, the Swedish authorities intervened wantonly, acting as if it enjoyed extraterritoriality from China. Some European authorities smeared the legal actions by Chinese judicial organs to punish law violators as undermining human rights, brazenly interfering in China’s internal affairs. Maybe these Europeans believe that by so doing they will change the color of China. However, they are obviously daydreaming. In fact, such actions will not only undermine political mutual trust, but also be counterproductive to the image of Europeans in the minds of the Chinese people. Our European friends should know that both positive and negative historical experience has led the Chinese people to such a conclusion that only an independent path of socialism with Chinese characteristics in line with national realities can ensure sustained success and support from the people; only when the principle of mutual respect and seeking common grounds while putting aside differences is observed, will the relations between countries with different social systems enjoy smooth development. Otherwise, setbacks will be inevitable. 

(II) Whether to observe the principle of seeking win-win cooperation or allow the zero-sum mentality to lead us astray. Major European countries have every reason to welcome and support the efforts by a major country that used to be poor and backward to catch up with developed countries in economic and technological fields, because such efforts serve the interests of developed countries and manifest human progress. To try hard to prevent the peaceful emerging of a possible competitor is not only short-sighted but also against the loft ideal for human advancement. Frankly speaking, to develop China and make it stronger is the firm will of 1.3 billion Chinese people and an unstoppable historical trend. China’s development has provided for the world a vast market, affordable and quality products and an investment destination with favorable returns. It is a contribution, an opportunity and a blessing for the world economic development rather than a threat. On 7 January, Holger Steltzner, a publisher of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, wrote in an article on the newspaper’s website that protectionism in Europe is moving ahead and Brussels’ trade policy with China is just orally different from that of Donald Trump because the European Commission is also setting up obstacles. The article also pointed out that more and more political and business leaders and intellectuals have started to see a zero-sum game in the world trade and believe that what one side wins is exactly what the other side loses. In order to make things better for the “losers” in globalization, some political leaders in Europe put forward such concepts as opposing “social dumping”, asking other countries to commit to the same labor rights, benefits, environmental standards or taxes. Otherwise, they will label a country as one with social dumping and take it as a pretext for applying protectionist measures. 

(III) Whether to strictly fulfill agreements or pursue protectionism under well-designed excuses. China is committed to advancing the reform of the global governance regime to build a more equitable and fairer order that benefits all. However, it is not to start something new. China stands for gradually realizing the goal through reforms following the principle of extensive consultation, joint contribution and shared benefits. Agreed obligations such as the abolition of Article 15 concerning the surrogate country approach in the protocol on China’s accession to the WTO should be honored in line with the agreement as it concerns the credibility of signatories. In early June 2017, Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed publicly her support for the EU to implement the provision of this article and stated that the new trade rules that the EU was drafting would comply with WTO rules and not discriminate against China. However, it has been revealed by media reports that before Chancellor Merkel made the statement, Germany, France and Italy had pushed the EU to introduce new rules of a protectionist nature against “non-EU countries”, which are actually mainly against China. This in essence is aimed at continuing the function of the surrogate country article under the disguise of “serious market distortion”. This reveals three points: first, the EU lacks the integrity to honor what it has agreed. Second, Germany has been acting in a double-faced way. Third, certain EU member states and agencies have played the roles of good guys and bad guys respectively in the process. Similarly, under the excuse that foreign companies cannot enjoy the same treatment in China as Chinese companies do in Europe, the EU raised the so-called principle of reciprocity in investment, which is designed to limit Chinese companies’ investments in Europe, especially those in acquiring high-tech companies and key infrastructure. The example used by the EU is that while Chinese companies purchased the operation right of Piraeus Port of Greece and Hahn Airport close to Frankfurt, it was impossible for German companies to do so in China. The so-called principle of reciprocity sounds fair, but actually it is against common sense and hardly feasible. Normal businesses and cooperation between countries in essence are to complement each other for win-win outcomes. It should be consensual rather than impose one party’s will on the other. Chinese companies acquired the two projects through public tendering. The Greek port was in dire need of money with operation difficulties while the German airport suffered losses for long and was eager for a turnaround. Piraeus Port enjoyed good performances after being bought by the Chinese company, and Greece has benefited a lot from and spoken highly of it. The seller of Hahn Airport was also heartened to find a proper buyer for its asset. All these are indisputable facts. However, there are no ports or airports for sale in China. So does China have to sell a port and an airport to Germany simply to comply with its principle of reciprocity?

(IV) Great efforts should be made to strengthen mutual understanding and trust. Chinese scholars interested in China-EU relations widely believe that mutual understanding between the two sides are far behind the China-EU economic cooperation and trade in both width and depth. Therefore, the two sides need to make more and greater efforts. The leaderships should step up their exchanges of ideas, policies and visions to deepen mutual understanding. Think tanks and the media of China and the EU in particular should make objective and truthful publicities to help the two peoples better understand each other and reduce misunderstandings and prejudice. On the part of China, it should redouble its efforts to improve the publicity work and tell good China stories, which should be one of top priorities in China’s diplomacy. Frankly speaking, the Chinese people generally have stronger aspiration to understand and learn from Europe than the other way around. However, as a Chinese saying goes, it takes two hands to clap. Therefore, we hope that our European friends will show some modesty, drop their prejudice and stereotypical views, including certain residues of the cold war mentalities, earnestly understand China’s history, culture, national conditions, policies and visions and respect the values of the Chinese people based on a time-honored history of five thousand years. Otherwise, if they keep regarding China as something weird and view what China does with misgivings, it is inevitable that they come to wrong conclusions. A typical example is that the EU believes that China is pursuing a “divide and rule” strategy in seeking 16+1 cooperation with Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries. German Vice Chancellor and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel even asked China to follow a “One Europe policy” and not divide Europe, putting it on a par with China’s commitment to the One China policy. It is fully justified for China to resolutely refute such unwarranted misgivings and acquisitions. It is known to all that China has consistently supported European integration and Euro. When the EU was hit by both the international financial crisis and European sovereign debt crisis, China not only encouraged Europe to remain confident but also bought bonds of European countries within its capacity. The cooperation between China and CEE countries meets the development needs of those countries and also serves the balanced development and integration of whole Europe. Such cooperation is open and transparent. The EU was invited to send its observers to each summit of 16+1 Cooperation and all projects under the cooperation have strictly followed the laws and regulations of the EU. China respects the independence of CEE countries and has taken into account their special relations with the EU. The One China principle is the political foundation for China to develop official relations with other countries and it has been recognized by the international community, the United Nations included. However, one has to ask what the “One Europe” policy is based on. When is it established and recognized by the international community? Where is the country with single European sovereignty in the sense of international law? We only know that the EU is a union of sovereign countries and all its members are countries with sovereign independence. They are fully entitled to make independent decisions on engaging in mutually beneficial cooperation with foreign countries. There are 11 EU members in the 16 CEE countries. Is there anything wrong for them to cooperate with China in line with their respective needs and potential? Another salient example is that at the Munich Security Conference on 17 February, this German foreign minister went so far as to call on Western countries to work together to counter China’s rising, claiming that China is pursuing the Belt and Road Initiative todevelop a comprehensive systemic alternative to the Western model and accusing China of working together with Russia to undermine the unity of the EU.It must be bluntly pointed out that EU member states should find reasons for any possible differences or divisions among themselves from within the EU. It will be futile to try to divert people’s attention without making any self-reflections.       

Based on the above analysis, it is fair to say that China and the EU enjoy favorable conditions but also face severe challenges for building a new type of international relations and a community with a shared future for mankind. Many obstacles have to be overcome. The common task now for the two sides is to implement the agreed cooperation blueprint and synergize each other’s development strategy, including synergizing the Belt and Road Initiative with the European development strategy, China’s international industrial capacity cooperation with the investment plan for Europe and China-CEEC cooperation with the whole China-EU cooperation as well as fully implementing the China-EU 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation. Through synergizing these strategies and the agenda for cooperation plus various innovative cooperation projects which are unfolding, China and the EU will jointly build partnership for peace, growth, reform and civilization. What is particularly important is that both sides should stand at a strategic height to view China-EU relations for the purpose of advancing human progress from an objective perspective that keeps abreast with the times. The two sides should in real earnest implement the principle of mutual respect, fairness, justice and win-win cooperation, seize opportunities while well managing differences, surmount various obstacles and gradually overcome differences in perspectives to ensure that the China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership enjoy sustained and steady progress to the benefit of the two peoples and make constant contribution to the lasting peace and common prosperity of the world.

Mei Zhaorong is Former Ambassador of China to Germany and Former President of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs.