by Martin Banks
China’s new ambassador to the EU says Europe’s business community has a “big role” to play in bridging any gaps between the two sides.
Fu Cong, new head of Mission of the Chinese Mission to the EU, was speaking at a briefing organised by the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC) in Brussels on Thursday.
The ambassador also called for speedy agreement on the stalled Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI) which would grant EU investors a greater level of access to China’s market.
In a particularly open and frank debate, he said that relations between the EU and his country “should not just be left in the hands of the politicians,” adding that economic and trade links remained “the foundation” of such relations.
“The business community must, though, also help promote the healthy aspects of our relations.”
His comments come with tensions rising between the international community, including the EU, and China. The latest example came just on Thursday when a cross-party group of UK MPs and peers asked the UK information commissioner to investigate whether the Chinese-owned TikTok’s handling of personal information is in breach of UK law. TikTok has strongly denied allegations that it hands users’ data to the Chinese government.
In a wide ranging speech, the ambassador, who arrived in Brussels only last autumn, cited China’s economic recovery from the fall out of the crippling health pandemic, saying that in 2022, its GDP has reached some $18 trillion which, he said, “outperformed” all other major global economies.
This,he argued, demonstrated how successful China had been in “stabilising” its economy.
He also said that China’s “opening up 45 years ago” had “changed the world” and this continued to “create new opportunities” for business around the world, including in Belgium.
Businesses, he said, have a key and “important” role in providing a “platform” for cooperation in several areas, including digitilization, tackling climate change and the green economy.
He pointed out that, according to latest data, two way trade between the two sides had risen by 2.4 per cent to some $847 billion.
He also called for ratification of the currently stalled trade agreement between the EU and China, saying that, if ratified, it would provide for much improved market access and “will be good news for the global economy.”
“The priority should be to unlock this agreement and,today, I appeal to the business community to help revive this.”
He also said that all SMEs, including those from Belgium, were welcome to participate in the China-led Global Development Initiative, launched in 2021. Belgium itself,he said, was in well placed to benefit as it enjoys a “strategic location” and “important ports”.
“I invite everyone to join in this green initiative,” he said, adding, “China is very open to this.”
The ambassador, who took up his new post in Brussels last autumn, addressed an audience made up largely of members of the Belgian business community.
Speaking with a frankness not always associated with diplomats, he also said he hopes business relations with the EU and others could be “freed of any political interference.”
“This includes any third parties and I think you know who I am talking about.”
He added, “I realise you cannot completely free politics or politicians from economic or trade relationships but developing sound economic ties has to be in our mutual interests.”
He argued that promoting such ties could go a long way to preventing conflict or even war, adding, “It can certainly reduce the risks and there is less chance of war breaking out if we have sound, economic ties. Failure to do this could could make the world a riskier place.”
“We all know what the last Cold War looked like. Do we really want to go back to that?”
In an opening address, Erik Famaey, a Flemish board member of the BCECC, which seeks to promote economic ties between China and Belgium told the debate that the comments by the new head of mission were timely as they came soon after President Xi Jinping was recently re-elected for what he called an “unprecedented” third term.
The diplomat previously served as Deputy Permanent Representative and Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary for the Disarmament Affairs of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations Office at Geneva, and was later appointed Director-General of the Department of Arms Control of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China.