The European Union’s relations with China are maturing and growing increasingly significant, with new initiatives generating both concrete opportunities for cooperation as well as the potential for disagreement, participants said during robust discussions at Friends of Europe’s eighth Europe-China Forum and Policy & Practice Roundtable on 27-28 November.
The two-day event took place amid rising global uncertainties, as both sides struggle in their relations with the United States. Discussions on both days focused on the reform of China’s markets; joint efforts in clean energy and green technology; strategies to better connect Europe and Asia– in particular, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is developing infrastructure in Asia, Europe and beyond – as well as the EU’s strategy for connecting the continents through better transport, energy, digital and people-to-people links.
While participants agreed that many opportunities already exist for enhancing cooperation between Europe and China – including collective work on Africa, climate change, connectivity and UN Sustainable Development Goals – many of these areas also generate differences. A lack of transparency in BRI dealings, for example, is contributing to trust issues between European and Chinese policymakers and practitioners. Creating the conditions for greater trust is a prerequisite for increased cooperation and synergies between the two.
Meanwhile, European companies are calling for more ambitious market liberalisation and reform in China, which has seen unparalleled growth and development since it opened up to the world 40 years ago. European companies have been active participants in this growth but say that they find the Chinese market difficult to enter and face discrimination when they do business there. The potential for developing EU-China relations is especially striking given that China and the US are mired in a trade dispute, with Europe’s security relationship to Washington also going through a period of significant strain.
“European capital and technology have contributed a lot to China, and cooperation with China has contributed a lot to European growth. There are synergies between the BRI and the EU connectivity strategy,” said Zhang Ming, Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the EU, highlighting the boom in trade and investment between China and the EU, the surge in flights and the increasing use of rail links for shipping goods as developments that exemplify this progress. “Confucius said a man of 40 no longer has doubts. After a journey of over 40 years, China-EU relations have become more mature.”
For Europe, uncertainties over its relationship to the US have increased the significance of other international links, such as those with China. “We certainly want to cooperate with China, and we do on many issues,” said Gunnar Wiegand, Managing Director for Asia Pacific at the European External Action Service (EEAS). “We compete in many fields – in high tech and over economic challenges – and we disagree over the ways societies are organised. But the capacity to find common ground is a sign of the maturity of the actors. The strong commitment of Asians and Europeans to a rules-based international order with the UN at its core is an expression of both principles and interests.” He added that it is important for the sake of credibility to make progress beyond principles on specific issues – Geographic Indications (GI) and the Comprehensive Agreement on Investments (CAI), for example, which are the subject of ongoing negotiations.
China is undergoing a wave of reforms that is making it easier for European businesses to participate in its economy, said Chi Fulin, President of the China Institute for Reform and Development (CIRD). State-owned enterprises are being restructured and rules on foreign ownership of Chinese companies are being relaxed. “There will be a lot of opportunities from the China-EU relationship, and these are bigger than the challenges,” he said. “The complementarity is bigger than the differences.”
Coinciding with the 40th anniversary of China’s opening up, the 8th edition of Friend’s of Europe’s Europe-China Forum will be held on 28 November.
Participants and high-level European and Chinese speakers will look at Europe-China relations in the context of the myriad opportunities and challenges to come – opportunities to move ever closer in their cooperation on issues like the energy transition and more inclusive connectivity projects, as well as ways to overcome challenges posed by trade and investment. As they seek to reach common ground, leaders of both have tough questions to answer:
- After 40 years of reform, are China’s markets an open or shut case for European exporters?
- Can there be real synergies between the BRI and the EU’s connectivity blueprint?
- What can China and Europe do jointly to encourage the development of green tech and clean energy?
The Forum will be preceded on 27 November by the invitation-only Policy & Practice Roundtable.
The Europe-China Forum and Policy & Practice Roundtable are joint initiatives of Friends of Europe and the Mission of the People’s Republic of China to the EU, aimed at promoting greater Europe-China engagement and cooperation, and bring together policymakers, business representatives and leading academics from across Europe and China to discuss issues of shared interest and address pressing common challenges.
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China’s forty-year old economic journey of growth and development remains unparalleled. The historic decision taken four decades ago to engage in wide-ranging market reform and open up the country to foreign competition has transformed China’s economic – and societal – landscape, putting the country among the world’s top three economies. Foreign exporters and investors have been active participants in China’s growth trajectory and EU-China trade and investment flows have remained buoyant over the years. Today, European companies are demanding more ambitious market liberalization and reforms in China and the EU is calling for reciprocity and openness in China’s approach to foreign investments. Recent Chinese moves to further open up the market will add to China’s attraction as an export and investment destination, but as the trade war between the US and China escalates, the case remains that the full potential of the EU-China economic relationship is left untapped.
- With the multilateral trading system under strain following the US decision to impose punitive tariffs on foreign steel, how can China and Europe work together and learn from each other to prevent a damaging slide into protectionism?
- How close are China and the EU to concluding a Bilateral Investment Treaty and could such a deal – or Chinese demands for an EU-China free trade agreement – ease European concerns over the rise in Chinese investments in Europe?
- Which are the priority sectors for European and Chinese companies – and what are their key concerns – as they seek to step up their presence in each other’s markets?
Ambassador of the People’s Republic of China to the European Union
Managing Director for Asia and Pacific at the European External Action Service (EEAS)
CEO of the Association of European Chambers of Commerce and Industry (EUROCHAMBRES)
President of the China Institute for Reform and Development (CIRD)
Chair of the European Parliament Delegation for relations with the People's Republic of China (2014-2019)
Deputy Director-General of the European Commission Directorate-General for Trade
Research Fellow in the Asia-Pacific Program at Chatham House
Managing Director at New Horizons Project
Launched in 2013, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is never far from the headlines. The EU’s connectivity blueprint adopted in September 2018 has meanwhile set out the Union’s own ambitions and conditions for increasing connections between Europe and Asia. Chinese President Xi Jinping has promised important development gains for all countries along the route, saying the new connections will boost trade, cut transport costs and upgrade environmental and digital connections. The EU’s connectivity strategy, meanwhile, sets clear guidelines for ensuring such projects adhere to rules on transparency, sustainability, international labour standards, equal access for all companies and open procurement. EU governments and businesses have made their interest in the BRI quite clear. As such, the EU and China have an interest in ensuring their respective initiatives work well together, despite different approaches.
- Can there be real synergies between the BRI and the EU’s connectivity blueprint and if so in which sectors and in which countries?
- Has China taken any steps to ‘multilateralise’ the BRI and taken on board some of the EU’s comments on lack of transparency, strict procurement rules and equal access to BRI projects?
- What challenges and opportunities do initiatives like the 16+1 cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European states and the opening of a ‘Polar Silk Road’ or ‘Arctic Corridor’ open for EU-China relations
Maja Bakran Marcich
European Commission Deputy Director-General for Mobility and Transport
Director General, DG International Partnerships INTPA, European Commission
Vice-President of China Foreign Affairs University
Latvian Permanent Representative to the UN and Foreign Affairs State Secretary (2013-2018)
Senior Advisor China and Co-Dean of the Sino German Young Professional Campus
Managing Director at New Horizons Project
China is stepping up efforts to fight environmental damage and promote what President Xi Jinping has described as an “ecological civilization that ensures harmony between humans and nature”. A new Ministry of Ecology and Environment has been established. And with the creation of a new carbon emissions market, ambitious targets to decarbonize the economy, Beijing is pressing ahead with myriad actions and policies aimed at cracking down on pollution, promoting renewable energies and speeding up technological innovation. Through the “Clean Energy for All Europeans” package and the soon-to-be established 2050 strategy to decarbonise its economy, Europe is also working to ensure a transition to a cleaner, more sustainable and less carbon intensive energy future. Among other measures, new European Commission proposals for the next EU budget foresee an ambitious goal for climate mainstreaming across all EU programmes, with a target of 25 per cent of EU expenditure contributing to the climate change objectives.
- Given US President Donald Trump’s retreat from the Paris Agreement on climate change, how can China and the EU work together to ensure the success of the COP 24 meeting in Poland?
- What is the state of play on the EU-China roadmap on energy cooperation?
- What can China and Europe do jointly to encourage and promote the development of green tech and clean energy?
European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs & Fisheries
Professor at the National Development and Reform Commission’s (NDRC) Academy of Macroeconomic Research
Dörte Fouquet Partner at Becker Büttner Held
Director General of the Central University of Finance and Economics’ International Institute of Green Finance
Director of the Centre for Business and Climate Change and Senior Lecturer in Energy Finance at the University of Edinburgh
Managing Director at New Horizons Project
Arnaldo Abruzzini represents the voices of over 20 million companies of all sizes and sectors through EUROCHAMBRES’ members in 43 countries and its network of 1,700 regional and local chambers of commerce. He is also an active entrepreneur and has previously served as Managing Director of several companies active in telecommunications, marketing and advisory services in both Italy and the US. Abruzzini previously worked in the financial sector, notably in investment banking and insurance.
Maja Bakran Marcich is responsible for coordinating activities related to investment, as well as innovative and sustainable transport, and has been involved in discussions relating to the EU-China Connectivity Platform. Prior joining the European Commission, she served as Assistant Minister for Europe in the Croatian Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs. Having held numerous posts in the Ministry throughout her career, Bakran Marcich was also responsible for horizontal coordination of the Croatian accession negotiations, as well as for setting up and managing Croatia’s coordination system for European Affairs.
A recognized international expert in the areas of energy, environmental and competition law, Dörte Fouquet’s particular expertise lie in renewable energy and energy system transformation. In addition to cooperating with the European institutions, she also works for international organisations like the World Bank and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). At present, Fouquet serves as senior expert to the German Ministry of the Environment, advising further development of the German feed-in-tariffs scheme, designed to encourage investment into renewable energy technologies.
As President, Chi Fulin leads the China Institute for Reform and Development’s efforts to facilitate China’s economic and development policy. He has published over 500 academic papers and is the recipient of numerous awards. Chi was listed in 2009 as one of the ‘100 Economists that have influenced China’s economic construction in the last 60 years’. In addition to his role at CIRD, he serves in numerous leadership positions including as Vice-Chairman of the China Society of Economic and Administrative Reform.
Yu Jie was previously Head of China Foresight at the London School of Economics’ (LSE) foreign policy think tank, LSE IDEAS, where she was recognised as a “Leading Woman”. Prior to joining academia, she specialised in advising on Chinese state-owned enterprise investments in Europe, as well as Chinese market entry strategies for European conglomerates. An expert on China’s foreign and economic diplomacy, Yu contributes frequently to major media outlets and briefs senior policy practitioners, including from the EU institutions, the UK Cabinet Office, the UK House of Commons and the Silk Road Fund in Beijing.
A member of the European Parliament for twenty years, Jo Leinen previously served as President of the Constitutional Affairs Committee, Chair of the Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety and took part in the Convention for the Elaboration of a Charter of Fundamental Rights for the EU. In his latest role he was responsible for relations with China. His work also covered relations between the EU and UN, as well as with the African, Caribbean, and Pacific Group of States (ACP). Prior to joining the European Parliament, Leinen was Minister for the Environment in the State Government of Saarland, Germany.
Specialised in energy policy, sustainable development and finance, Xi Liang has served as an expert advisor on climate finance to the Chinese government. Prior to his current post, he worked for investment management and advisory firms in China and was principle investigator on climate finance and carbon capture and storage projects with both the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. Xi is currently also Secretary of the China Low-carbon Energy Action Network, and an associate researcher in the Electricity Policy Research Group at the University of Cambridge.
In her current position, Maria Martin-Prat is responsible for the areas of Services and Digital Trade, Investment, Intellectual Property and Public Procurement. Martin-Prat has long served in the European Commission, formerly holding responsibility for the Copyright Unit in the Directorate-General for Communications, Networks, Content and Technology, as well as for free movement of services and freedom of establishment in the Directorate-General for Internal Market.
Zhang Ming has had a long and distinguished career in the diplomatic service, specialising in West Asian and North African affairs. Starting his career by working in Chinese embassies in Yemen, Oman and Israel, he later became Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Kenya, Permanent Representative to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Permanent Representative to UN-Habitat. Prior to his appointment to Ambassador of the Chinese Mission to the EU, Zhang served as Vice-Minister at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A sinologist, Andrejs Pildegovičs has more than 20 years of experience in the Latvian Foreign Ministry. Latvia was the first Baltic country to join the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and is part of the “16+1” group, China’s mechanism for engaging with Central and Eastern Europe. During his time in the Ministry, Pildegovičs has also served as Undersecretary of State and Political Director, Ambassador to the United States and Mexico and Chief of Staff to the President.
Jiang Ruiping is an expert professor whose research covers Japanese economy, China-Japan economic relations, East Asian economic cooperation and international political economy. His many posts include serving as Vice Chairman of the National Association for Japanese Economic Studies and as Vice-President of the East Asian Forum for Peace and Development. He is also a member of the Advisory Committee for Trade at the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and of the Advisory Group of East Asian Cooperation at the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Astrid Skala-Kuhmann is an expert in emerging markets and sustainability issues with a focus on China, having served for six years as GIZ’s chief resident representative and country director there. She later served as GIZ’s Director-General of Global Partnerships – Emerging Economies. In her current capacity, she advises on matters related to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Skala-Kuhmann is also co-dean for the “Zukunftsbrücke” (Sino-German Young Professional Campus) and a supervisory board member of Lenzing AG and Semperit AG, Austria, both stock-listed with global scopes.
In his current role, Karmenu Vella has often engaged with China, most recently by signing a landmark partnership agreement on oceans which includes commitments to both the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and to achieving ocean-related targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. Prior to joining the European Commission, he served as Minister of Malta’s Ministries of Public Works, Industry and Tourism. Vella was elected to the Maltese Parliament in 1976 and was re-elected nine consecutive times.
With more than twenty years’ experience in the EU’s external relations and trade policy, Gunnar Wiegand has previously served as Spokesman for External Relations to Commissioner Chris Patten; Head of Unit for Relations with the United States and Canada at the European Commission’s External Relations Directorate-General; and Deputy Managing Director for Europe and Central Asia at the EEAS, during which time he was the EU’s Chief Negotiator for the Association Agreements with Moldova, Georgia and Armenia, as well as the Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Kazakhstan. Wiegand also acted as the EU’s Chief Negotiator for the new EU-Japan Strategic Partnership Agreement.
Chang Xiuze is a prominent Chinese economist specialised in institutional economics, including theory on people’s development, broad intellectual property theory and China’s transformation. Beyond his work for the NDRC, he is also a research fellow of the National Center for Economic Research at Tsinghua University. A prolific author, he has published 10 books and many academic articles, some of which have been awarded national prizes.
Wang Yao is a distinguished academic, currently serving as a Fellow at the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership and as Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern Queensland and University of Victoria. An expert in green finance, climate finance and low carbon economics, Wang is also an expert at the Asian Development Bank and has authored a number of publications on the topics, including Carbon finance: global vision and distribution in China.
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