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The four pillars of EU-China cooperation (10/06/2016)

10.06.2016

Hans Dietmar Schweisgut

The 40th anniversary of the establishment of EU-China diplomatic relations in 2015 spurred energy into a bilateral strategic partnership. With the EU-China Strategic Agenda 2020 remaining the common framework for EU-China cooperation, new fields of collaboration are emerging, highlighting the increasing roles and responsibilities of Europe and China as global players and their willingness to further deepen their comprehensive strategic partnership.

Foreign and security policy, the first pillar of our cooperation, is becoming a major aspect of EU-China relations. Given that today’s major international problems cannot be solved by acting unilaterally, our cooperation is increasingly essential for us to carry our weight in maintaining regional and global security. The EU and China have successfully fought piracy in the Horn of Africa, joined forces on the nuclear capabilities of Iran and are considering expanding the joint cooperation on security, defence and development issues. We hope to work more closely together in Afghanistan, Africa, and the Middle East. North Korea’s defiance of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions remains a common concern, as is the fight against terrorism. The forthcoming Strategic Dialogue between High Representative Federica Mogherini and State Counsellor Yang Jiechi will be an important occasion to further strengthen our cooperation. The visit of the Chinese Minister of Defence to Brussels later in 2016 could also create a new momentum in our cooperation on security and defence policy.

The second pillar of our cooperation, trade and investment, remains at the core of our relationship, with our peoples reaping the benefits of growth, employment and dynamism. While Europe is leaving the prolonged economic crisis behind and is returning to growth, albeit slowly, China has embarked on an ambitious transition to a new model of economic development based on consumption and innovation.  EU support for reforms in China aimed at moving towards sustainable and inclusive growth would be best achieved by China further opening up its markets to European and foreign investment. China’s reforms will also have to address the problem of huge overcapacities in a number of industrial sectors, including steel. For our future economic relationship the Comprehensive Investment Agreement will be key. Both the EU and China share the same ambitions and look forward to good progress. However, China’s new wave of security legislation could undermine business confidence and impact European companies operating in China. As the next phase of our relationship will increasingly involve the high-tech sector, it is essential that China’s technological upgrading is based on openness to the contribution of EU business. Focusing on mutually beneficial policy initiatives, the High-Level Economic Dialogue could play an increasingly important role in our cooperation on all trade, economic and financial developments, but also in building an ever deeper, ambitious and balanced relationship.

The “new agenda” that emerged in recent years relates to connectivity, ICT and innovation. Alongside the first high-level meeting of the Connectivity Platform, we have also made good headway in defining a roadmap of China’s participation to the European Fund for Strategic Investment, linked to China’s One Belt One Road initiative. Innovation remains essential in the transformation of China’s growth model and its importance could further be harnessed this year, as it is also a G20 priority. But we need to ensure a level-playing field for innovation cooperation, including reciprocal access to respective research and innovation programmes.  Therefore, both the EU and China have begun setting the right framework conditions for successful cooperation activities of mutual benefit for both parties.

The EU is committed to a rules-based, transparent, and accountable system of global governance; a commitment which it hopes is shared by China. With the priorities of China and the EU largely aligned,  there are high expectations from EU officials regarding China’s presidency of the G20.  European support of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and China’s accession to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) were important new milestones in our infrastructure cooperation. It offers huge potential if it is based on high social and environmental standards and respect of established rules and principles. We will need to implement commitments taken at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP-21) in Paris, as well as look for a new momentum for the World Trade Organisation (WTO) beyond Doha. Strengthening cooperation and dialogue with China on development cooperation with third countries would facilitate working together to implement the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, aimed at addressing some of the most pressing issues on the global agenda such as climate change, environment, health, and disaster resilience of developing countries, notably in Africa.

 

Finally, through the fourth pillar of cooperation’s ambitious people-to-people initiatives, we have made enormous progress on issues ranging from visa facilitation and increased flows of tourism to student mobility, academia and cultural cooperation. We will particularly encourage stronger exchanges between young leaders, business people, academia, think-tanks and civil society organisations. We should also reinforce cooperation on human rights, a very important and integral part of our agenda. To more effectively deal with well-known differences in our respective approaches, a meaningful human rights dialogue could play a key role in future dialogues between the two parties.

Ahead of the EU-China Summit in July 2016, Friends of Europe will publish articles from our vast network of Chinese and European academics, policymakers, business representatives and media on the future of the EU-China strategic partnership. These will be collected into a publication entitled “EU-China relations: new directions, new priorities”.

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