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Strengthening China-Belgium cooperation will inject more impetus into China-EU relations

Dong Yifan

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on a New Year Reception in Brussels, Belgium, January 8, 2024. /VCG
Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on a New Year Reception in Brussels, Belgium, January 8, 2024. /VCG

Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo on a New Year Reception in Brussels, Belgium, January 8, 2024. /VCG

Editor's note: Dong Yifan, a special commentator on current affairs for CGTN, is a research fellow with the Institute of European Studies, at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. The article reflects the author's opinions and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

On January 11, Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo embarks on his first trip to China since taking office, marking that high-level exchanges between China and Belgium will further lead to the deepening and development of relations between the two countries. At the same time, the significance of Sino-Belgian exchanges and cooperation will not be limited to bilateral relations, but will also inject more stability and development momentum into the relationship between China and the EU.

The friendly relations between China and Belgium are a model for relations between countries large and small, developing countries and developed countries. In 1971, the leaders of China and Belgium jointly led the two countries to break through the barriers of the Cold War and establish diplomatic relations, demonstrating their far-sighted strategic vision and political courage. The development of Sino-Belgian relations and pragmatic cooperation has also progressed along with China's modernization. In 1978, China's then Vice Premier Gu Mu's visit to Belgium and other European countries played an important role in starting China's reform and opening-up process and developing cooperation with Western countries. Over the past 50 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations, China and Belgium have given full play to their complementary advantages in trade and science and technology, and continued to expand the pie of common interests between the two countries.

In 2022, the bilateral economic and trade volume between China and Belgium increase by 31.4 percent year-on-year. From January to November 2023, the bilateral trade volume between China and Belgium will reach $40.6 billion, largely increased from the $27.27 billion in 2014. Belgium has become China's seventh-largest trading partner within the EU. At the same time, Belgium is one of the early European countries to enter the Chinese market. As of May 2023, it has invested in more than 1,300 projects in China, with an investment stock of $2.53 billion in China. Famous Belgian companies such as Solvay and Bekaert have invested in China. Relying on its unique technical advantages, it reaps the dividends of the Chinese market.

Bulk carriers docked next to cranes at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges in Antwerp, Belgium, April 28, 2022. /VCG
Bulk carriers docked next to cranes at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges in Antwerp, Belgium, April 28, 2022. /VCG

Bulk carriers docked next to cranes at the Port of Antwerp-Bruges in Antwerp, Belgium, April 28, 2022. /VCG

In addition to the outstanding achievements in economic and trade cooperation, China and Belgium have also become interconnected partners. The Port of Antwerp-Bruges, Europe's second largest port, has continued to deepen cooperation with China over the years, acting as an important maritime hub for Sino-European trade. A number of China-Europe freight trains have been opened between Belgian cities such as Belgium, Zeebrugge and Antwerp. Liege has cooperated with Alibaba to build a comprehensive logistics hub linked to railways and airports, which has greatly facilitated e-commerce, freight trade and supply chains between China and Europe. The close cooperation between the two countries will boost local employment in Belgium and better promote Belgium to leverage its geographical advantages in Western Europe and build a logistics and transportation hub connecting Germany, France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and other European economic powers.

In fact, Prime Minister De Croo's visit further demonstrated his positive intention to promote practical cooperation between China and Belgium and continue to boost relations between the two countries. In February 2023, Prime Minister Alexander De Croo met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during the Munich Security Conference. De Croo said that Belgium and China have always maintained close communication and exchanges. For example, they attach great importance to relations with China and hope that the two countries will strengthen economic, trade, and civil aviation. Cooperation in areas such as new energy and other fields demonstrates Belgium's pragmatic attitude and strategic vision. In fact, the Belgian business community is also looking forward to continuously deepening pragmatic cooperation with China. Bernard Dewit, Chairman of the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, pointed out that as an important participant in the global value chain, China plays an important role in the smooth operation of manufacturing, shipping and logistics. It plays an important role and is of great significance in stabilizing the world economy. China and Europe should also maintain close economic and trade ties in the future.

From the perspective of China-EU relations, strengthening bilateral cooperation between China and Belgium will also play a special and positive role. Although Belgium is not a big European country, it is one of the founding members of the European Union. Brussels is also the dual capital of Belgium and the European Union. Historically, Belgian political elites have contributed to the integration development of the European Union. With a population of only 11 million, Belgium has contributed two European Commission presidents, Van Rompuy and Charles Michel, which also highlights the country's political power beyond its size in the EU.

At the same time, due to the diversity of Belgian national politics, its geographical location at the crossroads of major European powers, and its unique history, Belgian politicians are very good at promoting the balance of interests among various countries and parties and have also developed a flexible and pragmatic diplomatic concept.

Belgium will serve as the rotating presidency of the EU in the first half of 2024. Its main goal will be to steadily advance the EU's established development plans and external agenda, and at the same time promote the EU to maintain its established agenda in the face of the important political process of the European Parliament elections and development trajectory.

Though, there are some challenges in the current China-EU relations, and Politico even referred to De Croo's trip as "walking a tightrope," for "the trip comes at a difficult time in the relationship", promoting the stability and healthy development of China-EU relations is undoubtedly in the common interests of both parties and will also be one of the important contributions Belgium makes to the EU during its rotating presidency.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com. Follow @thouse_opinions on Twitter to discover the latest commentaries in the CGTN Opinion Section.) 

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