Co­op­er­a­tion key to Europe-China ties

Re­cent US trade spat un­der­lines the need for di­a­logue, mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism and a nonan­tag­o­nis­tic ap­proach to re­solv­ing dif­fer­ences

China Daily European Weekly - - Comment -

Eu­ge­nio Bre­go­lat, a three-time Span­ish am­bas­sador to China, told me that di­a­logue is the right way to solve problems.

The mood I felt dur­ing my visit to Spain and Por­tu­gal in the past week was quite dif­fer­ent from the months cover­ing the con­tentious China-US trade con­flict be­fore I was posted to Brus­sels in early Novem­ber. The mes­sage from Euro­pean of­fi­cials and pun­dits is largely cen­tered on how to ex­pand and el­e­vate co­op­er­a­tion with China, just as the Chi­nese of­ten say: make a big­ger cake so ev­ery­one has a big­ger slice.

A Span­ish na­tional who has ad­vised his gov­ern­ment was ex­cited about the fast-grow­ing num­ber of Chi­nese tourists vis­it­ing Spain as well as the many Chi­nese study­ing in Span­ish univer­si­ties in re­cent years. He also bet that Span­ish wine — good qual­ity and rea­son­ably priced — should have a promis­ing mar­ket in China.

Since most Chi­nese tourists vis­it­ing Spain ar­rive not in sum­mer, but dur­ing China’s Na­tional Day hol­i­day week in early Oc­to­ber and Spring Fes­ti­val hol­i­day, which falls ei­ther in late Jan­uary or Fe­bru­ary, they have helped make the once “slow tourism sea­son” not that slow any­more.

Just days be­fore my visit to Madrid, a friend in Shang­hai had re­turned to China af­ter a group sight­see­ing tour across Spain and Por­tu­gal. She posted “mul­ti­ple find­ings” on WeChat Mo­ments, from cathe­drals, fla­menco dance and olive trees in Span­ish cities and the coun­try­side to the fas­ci­nat­ing maze of cob­bled and nar­row al­leys in Alfama dis­trict and sea­side Cape Roca in Lis­bon. She seemed over­flow­ing with ex­cite­ment af­ter learn­ing about the two beau­ti­ful coun­tries.

That was my feel­ing, too, af­ter chat­ting with Por­tuguese stu­dents learn­ing the Chi­nese lan­guage and cul­ture at the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute at the Univer­sity of Lis­bon. I had tried very hard to learn Por­tuguese years ago to pre­pare for a pos­si­ble post­ing to Sao Paulo, Brazil, but that was not to be.

Learn­ing Chi­nese is no easy job for for­eign­ers, yet those stu­dents at the Univer­sity of Lis­bon are un­daunted. Some have made plans to study in China next sum­mer, while some oth­ers said they wanted to go to China in the com­ing years.

There is too much toxic rhetoric these days, in­clud­ing de­mo­niz­ing stu­dent and other aca­demic ex­changes be­tween China and other coun­tries. Uni­lat­er­al­ism and trade pro­tec­tion­ism, as well as tar­iff and trade wars, are some other deeply trou­bling phenom­ena haunt­ing the world to­day.

How­ever, what I heard dur­ing my visit to Spain and Por­tu­gal from peo­ple such as for­mer NATO sec­re­tary-gen­eral Javier Solana and for­mer Span­ish prime minister Jose Luis Ro­driguez Za­p­a­tero was their strong en­dorse­ment for mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism and a rules-based free global trade sys­tem.

It was touch­ing when Solana, also a for­mer Span­ish for­eign minister, praised China for be­ing very gen­er­ous dur­ing the 2008 global fi­nan­cial cri­sis. An­other speaker at the same fo­rum in Madrid high­lighted China’s re­spon­si­ble be­hav­ior dur­ing the 1997 Asian fi­nan­cial cri­sis, when it did not de­value its cur­rency. Those were in­deed touch­ing mo­ments be­cause blind ac­cu­sa­tions against China have be­come com­mon in some coun­tries to­day.

I am not say­ing there have been no dif­fer­ences be­tween China and Spain or Por­tu­gal or other Euro­pean states. Dif­fer­ences and dis­agree­ments be­tween coun­tries are to be ex­pected, just like there are dif­fer­ences and dis­agree­ments be­tween coun­tries within the Euro­pean Union or even among re­gions within any one coun­try. But that does not mean they should treat each other like en­e­mies, as ex­hib­ited by some West­ern politi­cians in their hos­tile at­ti­tude to­ward China.

Eu­ge­nio Bre­go­lat, a three-time Span­ish am­bas­sador to China, told me that di­a­logue is the right way to solve problems. He de­scribed the ex­ist­ing is­sues be­tween China and Europe as (nonan­tag­o­nis­tic) con­tra­dic­tions among the peo­ple, not (an­tag­o­nis­tic) con­tra­dic­tions be­tween peo­ple and en­emy.

He was quot­ing Mao Ze­dong.

The au­thor is chief of the China Daily EU Bureau based in Brus­sels. Con­tact the writer at chen­wei­[email protected]­

Chen Wei­hua

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