Post-COVID-19 China-EU relations under spotlight as leaders’ meeting nears

ADDIS ABABA (Xinhua) — As the Chinese and European Union (EU) leaders are set to hold a virtual annual meeting on Monday, the outlook for the bilateral relationship after the COVID-19 pandemic has come under the spotlight.

International observers and think tanks are eager to look into the insights of the leaders’ meeting as the two sides are managing to recover from the pandemic.

The Center for European Studies under China’s Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS) joined forces with its European partners last week in holding a virtual round table focusing on China-EU relations.

Chinese and European experts attending the webinar expressed their belief that China-EU relations will be more mature and reality-oriented in the future.

Lin Goethals, a program director with the European Institute of Asian Studies, believed an important issue of the meeting could be to make sure that the investment agreement between the two sides, which is now under negotiation, is mutually beneficial.

In response to some European analysts’ concerns such as the extent of China’s opening-up, Xu Mingqi, director of the SASS Center for European Studies, said the European perspective is understandable, but a notable reality is that China is “in the deep water of reform and opening(-up)” and its “domestic obstacles exist.”

Admitting that there have been some competitive factors and even frictions in recent years, Xu stressed that they cannot overshadow the strong complementarity between the Chinese and European economies.

Due to the nature of new threats confronting the world, such as the current health crisis and terror attacks, which know no borders, it is necessary to cooperate based on multilateralism and solidarity, said Istvan Ujhelyi, a member of the European Parliament and vice chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism, at the event.

“Understanding each other’s culture and history is the key to building long-term relationships and developing healthy and balanced societies,” he said.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang will hold the leaders’ meeting with President of the European Council Charles Michel and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen. On that occasion, Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet Michel and von der Leyen via video.

The meeting will be the first of its kind after the inauguration of the new EU leaders last year, and the highest-level bilateral meeting since the coronavirus outbreak.

During another webinar gathering Chinese and Western scholars earlier this month, Philippe Le Corre, research fellow at the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government at Harvard Kennedy School, highlighted the importance of solidarity in hard times.

Noting the notion of “rivalry” in EU-China relations the EU introduced last year, he said “this pandemic is a game-changer globally. Globalization will no longer be the same. In troubled times we should not be fighting each other, but should be sitting around the table.”

The upcoming meeting is expected to further boost bilateral strategic trust and mutually beneficial cooperation, as well as point out the direction for the development of bilateral relations in the post-COVID-19 era, said Zhang Ming, head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, in a recent interview with Xinhua.

As the world is faced with rising unilateralism, it is of utmost importance to strengthen the global response to the health crisis and improve public health governance on the basis of multilateralism, Zhang said.

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