70 years of diplomacy: China, European countries join hands in safeguarding multilateralism
Updated 09:30, 06-Oct-2019
You Yang, Li Shiyu

When Napoleon Bonaparte called China a "sleeping lion" two centuries ago, the legendary conqueror feared that when the lion wakes, "she will shake the world." The late French emperor was partly right in his prophecy since China has awakened, as declared by Chinese President Xi Jinping in his trip to Europe earlier this year, "but he was wrong in his fear."

With a population of 1.3 billion and an economy ranked second largest in the world, almost every move taken by China has a global impact. But rather than shaking the world, the "awakened lion" is embracing the world and showing its willingness to cooperate with European countries.

"For today's China-EU relationship, cooperation is the defining feature even though there are differences, or competition to some extent," said President Xi at the China-France Global Governance Forum in Paris this March. 

The Chinese president's words were echoed by European leaders. It was also at that forum, French President Emmanuel Macron said, "We would like to make progress on a renewed multilateralism." Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel stated, "We have to believe truly that in a multilateral cooperative system, it's possible for everybody to win."

Chinese President Xi Jinping and other European leaders present at the China-France Global Governance Forum in Paris, March 2019. /Xinhua Photo

Chinese President Xi Jinping and other European leaders present at the China-France Global Governance Forum in Paris, March 2019. /Xinhua Photo

President Xi chose Europe for his first foreign visit in 2019. The trip took him to France, Germany and the European Commission. All the parties agreed to seek fairer trade rules and work side by side on solutions over global security and economic issues.

Besides multilateralism, China and most major European players also said "yes" to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, "Most participants have acknowledged the Paris treaty" at the G7 summit. And President Xi said, "As one of the important parts of global governance, to cope with climate change is a mirror for us to think about, and explore future models of global governance." 

A friendly political atmosphere lays a solid foundation for bilateral trade cooperation. "China has become a much more important investor. This includes ports, for example, a Greek port and discussions for an Italian port. Lots of infrastructure projects," said Professor Mark Hallerberg at Hertie School of Governance.

People enjoy their day at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. /Xinhua Photo

People enjoy their day at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. /Xinhua Photo

To help promote multilateralism along, China's Belt and Road Initiative is gaining momentum in Europe. Over 20 European countries, including more than 10 EU nations, have signed Memorandums of Understanding with China under the initiative. China is also linking Europe with rail lines. Since 2017, more than 1,000 railway express trains have started transporting goods between China and 108 cities in 20 European countries. 

"Obviously, the Chinese economy is a huge economy with huge potential even for Italian companies. And as a government we believe that joining the BRI is important, also because as a geographical location Italy is the natural terminal of the BRI," said Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. 

European companies too have complained about what they say is a lack of a level playing field for them in China. While those concerns remain, they are part of complex negotiations towards a China-EU investment treaty, which appear to be moving forward. But experts say the two sides are keeping communicating over the issue while looking forward to achieving a consensus. 

At the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the Chinese leadership has reaffirmed the country's determination of deepening its reform and opening-up. Starting from the land under my feet, a more open, more prosperous China is reaching out to the center of the international arena to embrace a win-win cooperation from the European continent and also from the world.