One more boost for China-Europe relations
Updated 14:45, 09-Apr-2019
Jiang Shixue
Editor's note: Jiang Shixue is a professor at the Institute of Global Studies at Shanghai University. The article reflects the author's opinion, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.
Premier Li will hold the 21st China-EU leaders' meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the last China-EU leaders' meeting during the tenure of the current EU institutions.
Except for China, no country's president and premier have ever set foot on the land of Europe within a short period of only two weeks. President Xi Jinping just visited Italy, Monaco, and France from March 21 to 26, and now Premier Li Keqiang is there. This is certainly an indisputable indication that China-Europe ties are so good.
Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome, Italy, March 23. /Xinhua Photo

Chinese President Xi Jinping meets with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte in Rome, Italy, March 23. /Xinhua Photo

As early as in the 1950s, some European countries were among the first to recognize the new-born People's Republic of China. In 1964, France became the first influential Western country to establish diplomatic relations with China. European businessmen came to China soon after China adopted the policies of reform and opening to the outside world in 1978. Without European investment, China would not have achieved so many economic successes in the past 40 years.
China and many European countries have established strategic partnerships. In 2003, China and the European Union (EU) set up a comprehensive strategic partnership. In the diplomatic vocabularies of both China and Europe, “strategic partnership” is of the utmost importance. 
Therefore, no matter whether this phrase is the ideal target of the bilateral relations or just a description the status-quo of their relations, as some Chinese and European scholars have been arguing, China has always seen Europe as one of its trustful partners.
Economic cooperation between China and Europe is the engine of the bilateral ties. According to China's calculation, two-way trade between China and Europe as a whole and between China and the EU reached 733.8 billion U.S. dollars and 682.2 billion U.S. dollars, respectively. That is to say, within one day, almost 2 billion U.S. dollars' worth of goods come and go between the two sides.
Bilateral ties in other areas like political parties, people-to-people exchanges, science and technology, and even military have been proceeding steadily. The two sides have also started cooperation in the field of global governance.
Like marriage, bilateral relations between any two countries cannot be said to be at the best stage as there is always room for further development and improvement. That is to say, China and Europe need to aspire for a better future for their cooperation.
China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) should offer a golden opportunity for the two sides to strengthen their relations. 
Compared to about five years ago, an increasing number of countries are adopting a positive attitude towards the BRI. The latest example is the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) between Italy and China on March 23 when Chinese President Xi Jinping met with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte during his Italy trip. It made Italy the first G7 country to participate in China's BRI.  
Chinese tourists at The Mall Firenze in Florence, Italy. /VCG Photo

Chinese tourists at The Mall Firenze in Florence, Italy. /VCG Photo

However, some people in Europe still view the BRI with misperception, misjudgment, and misunderstanding. China is patient enough to see that they will do away with their prejudice about the initiative.
Needless to say, in order to create more synergies between China's BRI and Europe's Juncker Plan or any other development strategies, both sides should be clever enough to figure out tangible actions. Early harvest of extending the BRI to Europe would win more hearts of the doubtful Europeans. Deeds are always more valuable than words.
Since Trump went into the White House, unilateralism in the form of protectionism is on the rise and multilateralism is on the defense. 
As important players on the world stage, China and Europe have every reason to join hands to resist unilateralism. One way to achieve this objective is to speed up the negotiation of the bilateral investment treaty and also get prepared for the start of negotiation of a free trade agreement. Furthermore, in the face of unilateralism and protectionism, China and Europe can cooperate in multilateral organizations such as the UN, the WTO, the IMF, the World Bank, etc.
In order to promote the China-Europe relations, both sides also must strengthen mutual trust. As President Xi Jinping said at the seminar on global governance in Paris recently, trust is the “glue” for maintaining good relations among/between nations.
The best way to strengthen mutual trust is to promote mutual understanding. Compared with the past, mutual understanding between China and Europe has come to a very high stage. But that is not enough. 
It is a pity that the wrong mentality of “fear of China” and/or “China threat” is still wide-spread in Europe.
This wrong mentality is well reflected in Brussels' perception of the 16+1, i.e., cooperation between the sixteen Central and Eastern European countries (CEECs) and China. China is criticized for “dividing” the EU and then “conquering” it.
China fully understands that the CEECs are the “back-yard” of Brussels. Therefore, it never wishes to compete with the EU for influence in the sub-region. As a matter of fact, the 16+1 mechanism of cooperation benefits not only these CEECs themselves but also the European integration process.
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