by Benita Ferrero-Waldner
(The author is the external relations commissioner of the EU. Along with Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn and a representative of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Waldner will begin a two-day visit from today, aimed at furthering the already warm China-EU relations. --Ed.)
An ancient Chinese philosopher said we hear and we forget, we see and we remember, we do and we understand. And when it comes to the European Union (EU) and China, the level of joint action and mutual comprehension has seen a remarkable rise since we established relations in 1975.
Indeed, few parts of the world have been as radically transformed in the last 30 years as China and the EU. China's economic dynamism and Europe's enlargement and growing identity as a global player were unthinkable back in the 1970s. Today, we should be proud of our joint achievements.
What began as a primarily trading relationship back in 1975 has changed out of all recognition, and now embraces all the elements of a modern partnership. Last year the EU and China decided to broaden the relationship into a true strategic partnership. Our 1985 Trade and Economic Cooperation Agreement simply has not kept pace with all our common interests and activities. We need a new agreement that will reflect the modern reality of this friendship between two of the most influential and fast changing actors on the world stage. I hope that we will launch negotiations this year.
We have every interest in strengthening our partnership. China has the world's largest population, the EU the third largest. The EU is the world's second largest economy and China the fourth. We are both building our influence and engagement in international affairs and particularly in the multilateral arena. We have so much to offer to each other as partners.
The EU is committed to China and her efforts to reform. We want to support China's social and economic reform process that is transforming Chinese lives and livelihoods, and we want to help China integrate into the world economy. The EU also attaches a great deal of importance to our EU-China Human Rights Dialogue and hopes that China will continue progress in this area.
We are at an exciting stage of our dynamic partnership. In the economic sphere the figures speak for themselves -- the EU is China's most important trading partner, while for the EU, China is second only to the United States. Total trade flows are now close to 180 billion euros (US$230 billion) annually. Investment flows are increasingly two-way. European companies invested around US$4 billion in 2003 and this figure is ever-growing. Chinese firms are also increasingly hungry to invest in Europe, attracted by the size of our 450 million strong market.
But our current relationship goes well beyond the economic. Chinese tourism in the EU is on the rise since we introduced a streamlined visa processing system in September last year, and close to 100,000 Chinese young people are now studying in Europe. The number of European visitors and students in China is also growing rapidly. The personal connections and friendships that result from these people-to-people contacts are an invaluable part of the relationship between the EU and China. Activities to celebrate the 30th anniversary are based on the principle of bringing people together. These activities will give the people of the EU and China a better understanding of our rich cultures.
Relations between the EU and China continue to flourish and span a wide range of sectors, from science, technology and education, to energy and the environment. We have established 20 "dialogues" to exchange experiences about the challenges we face, and we look forward to the high-level science and technology forum and the civil aviation summit later this spring. Of particular interest to us both is the EU's Galileo satellite navigation project, in which China made a welcome investment in late 2003.
Internationally, our status as newly emerged global players means that we have common goals and common problems. We share similar views on international affairs, both of us favoring a multilateral approach to problem-solving and dispute-resolution.
In these uncertain times, when so many of the challenges we face can only be tackled through international cooperation, we gain immeasurably by viewing each other not as rivals but as allies. We are already working together on addressing climate change, United Nations reform, and the fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction: this valuable cooperation can and should be extended to other fields.
Let us intensify our political relations and be ambitious as we look forward to the next 30 years. Because this relationship is not only good for the EU and for China, but is a partnership that can help to create a secure, prosperous and stable world for all our citizens. To get back to another saying, I would recall that success depends on previous preparation. Let us prepare accordingly.
(China Daily May 11, 2005)