BEIJING, April 2 (Xinhua) -- High-level exchanges between China and Europe reflect the breadth and depth of today's comprehensive strategic partnership between the two sides.
With growing scope of bilateral cooperation, both sides are prudently optimistic about reaching more positive outcomes in the future and encompassing the full scope of a more mature bilateral relationship.
FREQUENT HIGH-LEVEL EXCHANGES
Recent years have witnessed more high-level exchanges between China and Europe as the bilateral relations become more important and influential. China is not only welcoming important visitors, but embracing cooperation with Europe.
After taking office in 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping has attached great importance to the relationship between China and Europe, with six visits having been paid to the region.
In 2014, Xi embarked on a journey of foreign visits, including state visits to the Netherlands, France, Belgium and Germany.
In 2015, Xi paid a state visit to Britain and leaders of both countries decided to lift the China-Britain relationship to a "global comprehensive strategic partnership for the 21st century."
In 2016, Xi visited Czech Republic in March, ushering the bilateral ties into a new era of seeking more common interests and deeper cooperation, and in June visited Serbia and Poland, lifting China's ties with the two countries to a comprehensive strategic partnership respectively.
Xi visited Switzerland and attended the 2017 annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos in January. It is the first state visit to the Alpine country by a Chinese president in the 21st century.
Then-Swiss President Johann Schneider-Ammann paid a state visit to China in April 2016, a year which saw meetings between leaders of China and European countries, including Belgium, Germany and Poland.
In February 2017, French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve and Italian President Sergio Mattarella made their state visits to China.
Such frequent exchanges represent more consensus, according to Cui Hongjian, director of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies.
"With leaders designing cooperation from a high level, these exchanges propel relations," Cui said.
"We know that China supports a united and prosperous Europe. Beijing is our friend and partner. I think the uncertain era makes our partnership more important and necessary," said Shada Islam, director of policy at Brussels-based think tank Friends of Europe.
FIRM COOPERATION DESPITE HEADWINDS
The China-EU Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, which has developed on the basis of the 1985 China-EU trade and cooperation agreement, has made significant headway and grown in the domains of foreign affairs, security, and in addressing international challenges, such as climate change and global economic governance.
Amid increasing exchanges and widening cooperation, some inharmonious voices did sound a discordant note in a chorus. In 2016, China and the EU had gone through a bittersweet year as growing protectionism in Europe has resulted in mounting EU anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigations against Chinese products, with spillover to Chinese investment. The move forced Beijing to launch dispute settlement procedures at the WTO.
The EU decisions threatened to overshadow the whole picture of bilateral trade ties, experts cautioned.
European countries' worry over the Chinese investment coincides with a protectionist trend and a surge in populism on the continent, said Hannes Dekeyser, an expert with the European Institute for Asian Studies.
Anti-dumping cases accounted for less than 2 percent of the total EU-China trade and it was not worthy for Brussels to put bilateral trade ties on edge, said Pierre Defraigne, executive director of the Madariaga-College of Europe Foundation.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed China's willingness to work with Europe to advance the partnerships for peace, growth, reform and civilization at this year's "two sessions," the annual gatherings of the top legislature and top political advisory body in China.
"We set store by Europe's strategic position and important role. We would like to respect and address each other's legitimate concerns and promptly remove obstacles to cooperation; to practice multilateralism and move toward a multi-polar world; and to re-energize the world economy, improve global governance and ensure the healthy development of economic globalization," said the minister.
Despite the headwinds in China-EU economic ties, bilateral trade managed to reach a new high in 2016, overcoming global downturn affected by sluggish demand and weak growth.
Data from Chinese customs show that bilateral trade value reached 3.61 trillion yuan (523.73 billion U.S. dollars) in 2016, an increase of 3 percent over the previous year.
Experts said it's time for European countries to downplay their baseless worries over China, and brace for pragmatic cooperation in the future.
"The EU is faced with multiple challenges and against this backdrop, China's support for Europe is very meaningful," said Ettore Greco, director of the Italy-based Institute of International Affairs.
DEEPEN PARTNERSHIP FOR BRIGHTER FUTURE
The EU and China are world players. The EU is China's biggest trading partner, while China is the EU's largest source of imports and second largest two-way trading partner. The trade and investment relationship is a major source of wealth, jobs, development and innovation for both sides.
The EU was the first regional cooperation mechanism established after the end of the Second World War; it's also the one that has developed the fastest.
It is very positive for Europe and China to advocate free and open trade in face of rising populism and protectionism. It is pressing to solve the problem of reciprocity so as to boost trade and investment. The bilateral investment treaty seems a win-win solution, said Dekeyser.
"Contrary to conventional wisdom, we believe the challenges currently confronting the EU may turn out to be an opportunity for the EU to become more mature," said Wang Yi.
China and the EU have a solid foundation of cooperation and the two sides have enhanced cooperation on connectivity, investment plans, and other strategies including "Made in China 2025" and Germany's "Industry 4.0," said Wang Yiwei, director of the Center for European Studies at China's Renmin University.
And the connection between the two sides is deepening with the progress of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative.
Proposed in 2013 by President Xi, the Belt and Road Initiative comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, and is aimed at building a trade and infrastructure network connecting Asia with Europe and Africa along the ancient trade routes.
The cooperation between China and 16 Central and Eastern European Countries has become a highlight under the Belt and Road Initiative, said the expert.
The director cited the fact that 25 Chinese cities have launched China-Europe express lines, which tremendously promoted the links between the two continents and contributed to the infrastructure construction and industrial development in the region.
Global cooperation relies on rules, arbitration and common standards. Both Europe and China are interested in the rule-based global multilateral system. Real opportunity lies ahead when the two parts work together for the system and support each other, said Guntram B. Wolff, director of Brussels-based think tank Bruegel and former official in the European Commission.
"China's contact with Europe and its participation here have become so vast and multidimensional. I think China even knows Europe better than many Europeans," said Shada Islam.
The scholar said China and Europe should join hands, especially in the era of a more separated world, to cooperate on issues of mutual concern. "The two sides have extensive opportunities for cooperation and our partnership is essential in this unstable world."