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Crisis brings China, EU closer together, say experts

Cao Desheng
Updated: May 06,2020 10:03 AM    China Daily

As May 6 marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic ties between China and the European Union, experts said the COVID-19 crisis might become a catalyst for them to enhance their cooperation and shape their future relationship.

Cui Hongjian, director of the Department for European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, said despite any differences that might remain between them, the EU and China should respect and trust each other amid the global pandemic while working together to prevail over the contagion and offset COVID-19's impact on the world economy.

Since the start of the outbreak, the pandemic has brought China and Europe closer together, which has been demonstrated by the mutual support and aid between China and the EU and its members.

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang have been in contact with European leaders-including European Council President Charles Michel, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron-on the outbreak as well as bilateral and international issues.

A report titled "Covid-19 in Europe-China Relations" released on April 29 by the European Think Tank Network on China said the COVID-19 crisis was the first time that China has figured so prominently in an issue of immediate critical importance to European people and governments.

"The way that relations with China evolve over the course of the crisis will likely have a lasting effect on the Europe-China relationship," said the report.

China and the EU both support and uphold multilateralism in addressing global challenges, and through various dialogue mechanisms. They are stepping up cooperation on diagnostics, treatment, pharmaceutical and vaccine development, as well as regular exchanges of information and expertise.

This year was supposed to be a defining year for China-Europe relations as critical decisions are expected to be made on questions such as 5G licensing rules in Europe and a bilateral investment agreement between China and the EU.

Among the important political events involving China and European countries was the Summit between China and Central and Eastern European Countries, which was planned to be held in China in the first half of 2020, but had to be postponed due to the pandemic. Germany had also proposed to hold a summit of China and EU countries in the second half of the year, and China also planned to host the 22nd China-EU Summit.

In a recent online strategic dialogue with Shada Islam, of the European think tank Friends of Europe, Zhang Ming, head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, said COVID-19 is affecting the schedule of events between China and the EU, but "it does not paralyze our communication, nor undermine our shared commitment to the comprehensive strategic partnership".

"The two sides have been in close contact to prepare for the high-level exchanges for this year. We aim to deliver positive results and bring our relations forward," he said. "On the bright side, the pandemic shows once again that China and the EU should be partners, not rivals."

Zhang said China-EU talks on an investment treaty are proceeding well, and both sides are strongly committed to pushing forward negotiations on the agreement.

"During the crisis, there has been growing talk of de-globalization, decoupling and protectionism. The continuation of the investment treaty talks demonstrates that China and EU are strong advocates for openness and cooperation," he said.