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China, EU to build trust and create fresh cooperation

Updated: 2013-10-25 23:18
By Fu Jing ( China Daily)

On Thursday, leaders of the 28 European Union member states gathered at the autumn summit in Brussels to discuss pressing problems in forming an economic and monetary union and rising unemployment.

Just across the road, visiting Chinese Vice-Premier Ma Kai and seven high-level officials met their European counterparts at the European Commission office for economic and trade talks.

Brussels and Beijing didn't intend to arrange the two meetings at the same time. But this coincidence shows how close the entities' interdependence and bilateral relationship is. And maybe, the EU leaders could have found solutions to their discussions at the venue just meters away.

Job creation for youth for member states and a unified digital market were high on the EU leaders' meeting agenda on Thursday and Friday. If talks in the opposite building go smoothly, China may be able to offer solutions by offering competitive digital services for the European market and therefore facilitate more posts for European jobseekers.

But I don't think Ma Kai and his European counterparts will merely focus on such near-term challenges. The leaders of both sides should have the courage and vision to discuss a fresh beginning of cooperation this year, which marks the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the EU-China Comprehensive Strategic Partnership.

The bilateral, intensive diplomatic agenda has seemingly signaled such intentions from both sides. In fact, Ma's tour in Brussels is in part to make preparations for the EU-China summit, which will be held in China next month. And both sides are also heading for a strategic and political dialogue between the highest leaders in charge of foreign affairs.

The summit in November is highly anticipated as both sides plan to announce the guiding principles and the roadmap of bilateral relations for the coming years. To make the summit more productive, I urge the leaders from both sides to carefully sum up the experiences gained and lessons learned in the previous ten years.

I urge them to also lend their ears to the voices of the Chinese and European people.

Of course, the numbers in trade, investment, tourism and people-to-people exchanges have shown robust flow between China and Europe, though in some dimensions, such as China's investment in Europe, the progress is just starting.

But we should not ignore the fact that relations saw a short honeymoon period during 2003-04 when the two sides began their strategic partnership. At that time, Brussels basically agreed to lift the arms embargo against China, but it finally disagreed due to US influence.

And in 2005, Brussels launched trade disputes on Chinese textile imports into the EU, and later, some European countries challenged China's "core interests" by allowing the Dalai Lama to pay official visits. The most recent issue involved Brussels' near-decision to levy high punitive tariffs on China's panel exports, though the issue was resolved in an amicable way earlier this year.

On the one hand, many may think these disruptions are "business as usual" as "ups and downs" are commonplace in bilateral relations. On the other hand, Beijing has thought these hiccups have created a dent in bilateral trust, which it has sought to foster. In nearly every speech by the Chinese ambassador to the EU, a deep cry can be heard to strengthen trust in Beijing-Brussels relations.

Fortunately, the scholars, the businesses and the citizens are many steps ahead of the politicians. They provide a solid foundation for a better bilateral future.

Belgian dentist Anastasia Patsantzis recently shared her "Chinese Dream" to join a dental clinic in Shanghai while her husband, a famous chef, opens a Belgian restaurant in the cosmopolitan city.

"All our services can help satisfy the growing needs of China's middle class and new rich. … And the most important thing? My 9-year-son can learn Chinese and get a Chinese education, which is essential of my dream."

Of course, many Chinese have their European dream too. There is no need to mention the rising number of Chinese investors who are about to have their stake in European businesses or families who are sending their children to Europe to explore its education and culture.

My retired parents-in-law are typical thrifty Chinese. I managed to persuade them to travel in Europe this summer after several years of efforts. After a two-month stay, they told me: "We will definitely explore Europe again in a few years."

These are the voices of the Europeans and Chinese. For politicians at meetings, I think the priority is to have their voices heard and remove the barriers that impede bilateral flows. And most importantly, ensure cooperation runs as smoothly as possible without disruptions because any disruptions have a negative impact on the people.

Contact the writer at fujing@chinadaily.com.cn

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