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Deeper practical cooperation, new thinking and new measures needed to further consolidate the comprehensive strategic partnership
By Song Tao
2012-09-17

The 15th China-EU Summit, due to start on Sept 20 in Brussels, will be the second of its kind this year and the 10th China-EU Summit to be attended by Premier Wen Jiabao. It will be an important meeting during which the two sides will seek to build on past achievements and work toward new ones.

Since its launch in 1998, the China-EU annual summit has played a strategically important role as the top-level political dialogue mechanism between the two sides. Especially since 2003, when it was decided at the sixth summit that China and the European Union would forge a comprehensive strategic partnership, China-EU relations have made rapid progress.

First, political mutual trust is being steadily consolidated. China and the EU enjoy close high-level exchanges and growing strategic mutual trust. The two sides have agreed on building China-EU cooperation into a model for 21st-century international cooperation. EU leaders have said on multiple occasions that the EU and China are partners and that mutual benefit is a key feature of EU-China relations. Thanks to concerted efforts from both sides, an all-dimensional and multi-tiered architecture of dialogue and cooperation, covering more than 60 fields, has taken shape. It follows the strategic guidance of the annual summits and is supported by the three pillars of High-level Economic and Trade Dialogue, High-level Strategic Dialogue and High-level People-to-People Dialogue.

Second, practical cooperation has yielded rich results. The EU has been China's top trading partner for eight consecutive years while China has been the EU's No 2 trading partner for nine consecutive years. Last year, bilateral trade topped $567.21 billion, having more than quadrupled since 2003. That translates into a daily trade volume of $1.48 billion. Over the last two years, Chinese investment in EU countries has boomed. EU surveys show that 74 percent of the interviewed enterprises see the Chinese market growing in importance in their global strategy. The two sides are working together not only in the traditional economic and trade fields, but also in new areas such as urbanization, energy and climate change, where new partnerships have been forged.

Third, people-to-people exchanges keep growing. Over 5 million people travel between the two sides every year. We have more than 400 pairs of twin cities. More than 230,000 Chinese students are studying in EU member states, 1.5 times the figure 10 years ago, while the number of European students in China exceeds 30,000, seven times that of 2003. Activities such as the Year of Youth and the Year of Intercultural Dialogue have been held successfully. As affinity between people holds the key to state-to-state relations, such cultural and people-to-people exchanges have consolidated the popular support for China-EU relations.

China and Europe are "neighbors from afar". Both sides need one another for their development. Cooperation between China and Europe has brought tangible benefits to the people of both sides, and contributed to world peace, stability and sustainable development. In echoing the call of the times, the China-EU relationship is now one of the most important relationships in the world.

First, it is a relationship of a strategic nature. China and Europe are at the two ends of the Eurasian continent and are the largest developing country and the largest bloc of developed countries. Together, they have one-fourth of the world's population, one-tenth of the world's landmass, and one-third of the world's GDP. China and the EU are two pillars of a multi-polar world and their relationship has ramifications for the whole world.

Second, it is a relationship of cooperation. China and Europe moving ahead together can create an inexhaustible driving force for the upgrading of bilateral ties. There are many converging points between China's 12th Five Year-Plan (2011-15) and Europe 2020 Strategy and these offer both sides major opportunities. China and Europe need each other as development partners. The growing cooperation provides a strong boost to our respective development.

Third, it is a relationship of mutual benefit. Economically, China and Europe are competitive in a complementary way, making mutual benefit a major feature of the bilateral ties. It has often been said that good things happen when "designed in Europe" meets "made in China" and when "technology from Europe" meets "the market in China". As bilateral cooperation deepens, Chinese enterprises are increasing their presence in Europe. The combining of Chinese wisdom with European ingenuity will undoubtedly produce success stories.

Given the differences in social systems, historical backgrounds, cultural traditions and development stages, it is not surprising that relations experience ups and downs from time to time. At this moment, there are discordant notes in bilateral relations. In the context of the prospects for a global economic recovery remaining uncertain and slower growth in bilateral trade, China and the EU have even more reasons to work together to address the challenges of the times rather than giving a free pass to protectionism. China and the EU stand to lose from confrontation and gain from cooperation.

China and the EU, as two major forces on the world stage, share unprecedented opportunities and challenges alike. Be it in the context of the evolving international situation or our respective need for development, it is a must for our two sides to shape a strategic partnership of mutual respect and mutual benefit. We need to seize the opportunities, move ahead with the times, and deepen practical cooperation with new thinking and new measures in a bid to further consolidate the comprehensive strategic partnership.

China will continue to attach strategic importance to its relationship with the EU and prioritize the relationship in China's diplomatic agenda. Despite international concerns over the ongoing sovereign debt issue, the EU is still a major force in the world as the most integrated regional organization of developed countries. To address the issues at hand, the EU has launched a series of major measures, and individual member states are making increasingly intensive reform efforts. China looks forward to the fruition of these efforts. We are convinced that stronger cooperation between China and Europe can help Europe out of the crisis and neutralize the negative impacts of the debt issue on China-EU economic and trade cooperation.

China and the EU need to stick to a strategic perspective when we look at each other and accommodate each other with an open mind. We should treat each other as equals and with respect in our quest for common development. We should crack the thorny issues in our relations with a cooperative approach and do our best to expand common interests. In the face of differences and frictions, the two sides need to deal with them in a constructive manner through friendly consultations to uphold the broader interests of China-EU cooperation. We hope the upcoming summit will lend fresh impetus to China-EU relations.

The author is China's vice-minister of foreign affairs.

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