Fact Box

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Certainty in an uncertain world


Angela Merkel's stepping down as German chancellor after 16 years marks the end of an era for Germany and the European Union. During her tenure, Merkel promoted pragmatic cooperation between China and Germany and also helped establish a new kind of international relations between China and the EU based on mutual benefit and win-win results.

Merkel correctly understood the development trend of the times and firmly upheld the diplomatic concept of mutual benefit and win-win results. She is famous for her rational, pragmatic solution-oriented thinking, which is also the mainstream of the European political community.

The China-EU relationship is bound to change. But we have every reason to believe that relations will maintain overall stability in the post-Merkel era, as the two sides are capable of limiting such change within the scope of "adjustment amid stability".

In recent years, amid the unilateral policies and hegemony by the Donald Trump administration, the stable China-EU relationship brought great certainty to a world racked by uncertainties. Eclipsed by the COVID-19 pandemic, Europe is seeing a sluggish economic recovery, the rise of populism and acute social conflicts, which are posing daunting challenges for China-EU relations. In March, the European Parliament imposed sanctions against Chinese officials and entities based on lies and disinformation. China immediately imposed countersanctions in a tit-for-tat reaction. In May, the European Parliament halted ratification of the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment, which was agreed upon by both sides in December 2020 after seven years of talks.

Some irresponsible European politicians have adopted a hawkish stance against China in pursuit of political gains. Certain EU member states have even infringed upon China's core interests, thinking they have the backing of the United States in this. And in recent years, the EU and some of its member states have enacted some protective laws regarding investment review and technological cooperation, casting a shadow over China-EU economic and trade ties.

However, looking ahead, we should not be frustrated by the setbacks, because nearly three decades of sound development of China-EU relations has brought about tremendous benefits to the people of both sides, and the world at large. During this period, despite the twists and turns, China and the EU have jointly overcome enormous challenges.

Therefore, in the post-Merkel era, though there will be changes, we still remain optimistic about the overall strength of China-EU relations.

China-EU economic and trade cooperation will see structural adjustments. Despite the pandemic, China-EU trade value totaled 586 billion euros ($680 billion) in 2020, up 4.46 percent year-on-year. China overtook the US to become the EU's largest trading partner, accounting for 16.07 percent of its total foreign trade. Over the past few years, China-EU economic and trade collaboration has been challenged by dwindling complementarity of respective advantages, unvarying forms of cooperation, and restrictions on areas of cooperation. There have even been some calls for "reducing economic dependency on China "and "rebuilding the industrial chains" in Europe.

However, walking away from the world's second-largest economy and the world's largest emerging market is by no means a wise move for the highly export-oriented European economy. Only by seeking new areas of complementarities in economic and trade cooperation, exploring new forms of cooperation, and expanding cooperation areas can China and the EU sustain mutually beneficial cooperation.

The China-EU political cooperation, too, will undergo adjustments under a stable cooperative framework. China has established multi-layer, multi-field strategic dialogue mechanisms with the EU and its member states, laying a solid foundation for the stability of bilateral political cooperation and global governance. Both staunch supporters of multilateralism, China and the EU, despite great differences in their ideologies, social systems and interests, share common goals on such issues as tackling climate change, biodiversity conservation, countering terrorism and preventing nuclear proliferation. As responsible players in the international community, China and the EU--its member states as well--will have greater room for political cooperation, which is in line with the common interests of the entire humanity.

China-EU cultural exchanges and cooperation, too, will further expand and deepen. Cultural exchanges have become "the third pillar" of China-EU cooperation, with dialogue and exchange mechanisms of various forms covering various areas and increasingly frequent personnel exchanges. This reflects a common desire to consolidate the cultural foundation of China-EU economic, trade and political ties. But the COVID-19 pandemic has halted China-EU cultural exchanges, which are in dire need of enhancement and further improvement. Aimed at strengthening mutual understanding, mutual respect and mutual trust, cultural exchanges are essential for forging closer international relations. As long as China and the EU maintain a common desire to strengthen economic, trade and political cooperation, the desire to strengthen cultural exchanges will never fade and bilateral cultural exchanges are bound to witness rapid recovery and growth in the post-pandemic era.

China has been firmly supporting European integration and the EU has been constantly seeking "strategic autonomy". The recent establishment of the AUKUS alliance--a three-party security pact between Australia, the United Kingdom and the US--signals decreasing importance of European countries in the US international strategic framework. Furthermore, we cannot rule out the possibility of improved China-US relations in the years to come. These will help the EU maintain its rational, pragmatic China policy and ensure that bilateral relations make all adjustments necessitated by the times on the premise of stability, making new contributions to world peace and development.

The author is a research fellow and deputy director-general of the Institute of European Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn