China ties important, EU chief says

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen emphasized on Thursday the important role that China has on the global stage, as well as the importance for the European Union to engage with China.

"Our relationship with China is one of the most intricate and important anywhere in the world," she said in a speech in Brussels. "And how we manage it will be a determining factor for our future economic prosperity and national security."

It was the first time that von der Leyen delivered a comprehensive policy speech on China. French President Emmanuel Macron said last week that von der Leyen would accompany him on an upcoming visit to China, Agence France-Presse reported.

Von der Leyen praised China's great achievements in the last four decades in moving from widespread poverty and economic isolation to becoming the world's second-largest economy, and a leader in many cutting-edge technologies. "This is one of the greatest accomplishments of the past half century," she said.

Von der Leyen said it is vitally important for the EU to ensure diplomatic stability and open communication with China.

"I believe it is neither viable, nor in Europe's interest, to decouple from China," she said. "Our relations are not black or white, and our response cannot be either."

She said the EU does not want to cut economic, societal, political or scientific ties with China, adding that China is a vital trading partner for the EU, accounting for 9 percent of the EU's goods exports and more than 20 percent of its goods imports.

"This is why we need to focus on de-risk, not decouple," she said, noting that most of the EU's trade in goods and services with China remains mutually beneficial and "un-risky".

Von der Leyen hopes the upcoming visit will allow an open and frank exchange with her Chinese counterparts. She said the EU and China can work together in the global system in the future, citing China's active role in the climate fight. "At a time of global conflict and tension, these are notable diplomatic achievements, which China and the European Union worked on together. This shows what can be done when interests align. And it shows that diplomacy can still work," she said.

"China is a fascinating and complex mix of history, progress and challenges. And it will define this century. But our story about how we relate to China is not yet fully written, and it need not to be a defensive one."

In an interview published in the Diplomatic World on Tuesday, Fu Cong, China's ambassador to the EU, said China has always attached great importance to its relationship with the EU and sees no fundamental conflict of interests between the two sides.

"We believe that we are partners rather than rivals, and opportunities rather than threats to each other," he said.

Latest assessment

Ding Chun, director of the Center for European Studies at Fudan University, said the speech reflects the EU's latest assessment, especially by the European Commission and von der Leyen on China's status and China-EU relations.

"It is a more positive speech by acknowledging China's importance in global politics, economy, security, climate change and global governance, that the EU should not look at China as black or white and that the EU opposes decoupling but de-risking," Ding said.

He said the speech also reflects some misunderstanding of China's relevant policy by the EU.

Lai Suetyi, associate professor in the Center for European Studies at Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, said von der Leyen has clearly been spending time to learn more about China before her first China visit as commission president.

"And of course the actual trip itself will tell her even more," said Lai, adding that she hopes this trip would give von der Leyen a more accurate understanding of China.

Lai pointed out that the new concept of "de-risk" and "reassessing" the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment is noteworthy.

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