STATE VISIT: Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a welcoming ceremony held for him by his French counterpart Francois Hollande in Paris on March 26 (JU PENG)
Two major powers, two major markets and two major civilizations. China and the European Union (EU) represent the world's largest developing country and the biggest union of developed economies, respectively. A common need for development has brought them closer together.
From March 22 to April 1, Chinese President Xi Jinping conducted his first European tour since taking office in March 2013, sealing cooperative agreements between China and Europe both strategically and practically.
As Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said on March 8 when introducing the country's foreign policies and relations, Europe occupies a place of priority in China's 2014 diplomatic schedule. Xi's tour covered state visits to four EU member states and a visit to the EU headquarters in Brussels. On April 2, when the Chinese president ended his tour, China issued its second policy paper on the EU, clarifying the China-EU relationship and its role in the world. The country's first policy paper on the EU was released 11 years ago.
Xi's visit aimed to promote mutual political and economic trust between China and Europe, and expand bilateral cooperation in new areas as well as in traditional fields including trade. In addition, the trip plotted out a clearer cooperation strategy between them, so as to put their allround strategic partnership into practice, said Feng Zhongping, vice president of the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations.
The four countries Xi visited were thoughtfully selected. Germany and the Netherlands are China's biggest and second biggest trade partners in the EU; France was the first major Western country to establish a diplomatic relationship with China at the ambassadorial level; and Belgium is where the EU is headquartered.
A host of new "firsts" were made during Xi's European tour. It was the first time a Chinese president has visited the Netherlands; the first state visit China's president had conducted to Germany in the past eight years; the first state visit China's president had made to Belgium during the past 27 years; and the first time a Chinese head of state has visited the EU headquarters. China and the EU issued a joint statement on March 31, defining Xi's visit to the EU headquarters as "a historic landmark in China-EU relations." China's relationships with the four countries were also promoted during Xi's visit.
The China-EU relationship has become increasingly close in recent years. Last year, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang paid two visits to Europe. And a series of European leaders—French President Francois Hollande, Prime Minister of the Netherlands Mark Rutte and British Prime Minister David Cameron— successively arrived in China to meet China's new government formed in March. On November 26, 2013, a significant cooperative document, titled China-EU 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation, was released, posing 93 initiatives on peace and security, prosperity, sustainable development and cultural exchanges.
China's diplomatic strategy has become more active due to its growing strength and increasingly mature diplomatic wisdom. Greater relations with Europe will be the main diplomatic direction of China, said Ruan Zongze, Vice President of the China Institute of International Studies (CIIS), pointing out that Xi's visit signaled the growing trend. "China's major-power diplomacy focuses not only on the United States and Russia, but also on Europe," Ruan said.
China and Europe share similar targets of development and global functions, which provides the motivation for their closer bond.
"There is a historic opportunity to deepen the relationship between China and Europe," said Cui Hongjian, a researcher on European studies with the CIIS. During Xi's trip, China and European countries expressed their support for each other's reform and development plans. As China carries out a new round of reform and expands overseas investment, European countries are struggling to recover from the financial crisis, which presents an opportunity for high coherence, said Cui. The joint statement issued by China and the EU confirmed they would deepen their relationship based on equality, mutual trust and mutual respect, devoting themselves to building partnerships of peace, reform, growth and civilization.
According to the joint statement, China and the EU reached consensus about their roles in the world on a policy level, summarized as protecting world peace and stability, multipolarization, free trade, finding political anddiplomatic solutions to disputes, and diversity of civilization.
In the joint statement, the two sides reiterated their commitment to further advancing China-EU relations in next 10 years to benefit Chinese and European peoples and promote world peace and prosperity. Moreover, China and the EU agreed to upgrade their defense security dialogue and promote legislation cooperation, reflecting the all-round cooperation strategy.
The solid strategic basis will serve to support cooperation in various aspects between China and Europe, particularly in the trade, economic and investment areas. Mutually beneficial cooperation will create a tremendous boon for both China and Europe.
"The China-EU relationship now stands at a new starting line, as they face a significant opportunity to deepen cooperation," said Ruan. As China carries out its 12th Five-Year Plan (2011-15), Europe is advancing its Europe 2020 Strategy, which means their development plans are at an abutting joint, he added. "Their interests have already deeply intertwined."