Containers are loaded to a freight train of China Railway Express at a railway container center in Zhengzhou, capital of central China's Henan Province, Dec. 25, 2017.The Zhengzhou-Europe express railway service, which opened in 2013, hit 1,000 journeys as a freight train bound for Germany departed from Zhengzhou Monday. (Xinhua/Feng Dapeng)
by Xinhua writer Chen Shilei
BEIJING, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) -- On Christmas Day, a cargo train loaded with 90 standard containers of goods left Zhengzhou, central China's transport hub, for Hamburg in northern Germany. It marked the 1,000th such trip between the two cities.
The first cargo train departed from Zhengzhou for Hamburg on July 18, 2013. That year saw only 13 such trips.
Other routes between Chinese and European cities also saw a similar rocketing growth in the number of cargo trains in the past few years.
The number of China-Europe freight trains reached a new high in 2017, surpassing the past six years combined, with more than 3,000 cargo trains traveling on 57 lines between the two sides. The number of such train trips is expected to reach 4,000 in 2018, according to China Railway Corporation.
The China-Europe rail service, a significant part of the China-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, is expected to boost trade between China and Europe.
In the first 10 months of 2017, trade between the two sides increased 16.2 percent year-on-year to 3.4 trillion yuan (513 billion U.S. dollars).
BASIS FOR CHINA-EUROPE TIES
The astonishing growth of China-Europe trade shows that the European economy is recovering.
"The European economy is stabilizing and picking up, with its GDP growth in the first three quarters of 2017 surpassing that of the United States," Zhao Chen, chief of European International Relations Department at Institute of European Studies under Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told Xinhua.
"With a developed high-end manufacturing industry, Germany, a leader in the European economy, maintained a financial surplus in 2017," said Zhao.
He believed that the recent failure to form a coalition government in Germany is temporary and a stable government will be established at the beginning of 2018.
"Led by the German economy, Europe's internal demand and exports are expected to increase gradually," Zhao said.
"The basis for the China-Europe relations lies in economy," he said. " China will expand exports in 2018 and the improvement of the European economy will promote a more balanced bilateral trade relationship."
In the eyes of Lai Suet Yi, lecturer and researcher with the Center for European Studies at China's Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, China-European Union (EU) trade relations will be "more bumpy" than before.
"Due to the rise of anti-globalization sentiment as well as populism inside the EU, China-EU trade relations will be more bumpy than before, especially on steel over-productivity, anti-dumping duties and China's outward investment to the EU," Lai told Xinhua.
But such disputes will not affect China-Europe trade at large. "In the over-560 billion-U.S.-dollar bilateral trade, disputes cover only less than 3 percent of the total and most of it is win-win," Zhao said.
"Therefore, cooperation far outweighs divergence," he said.
STABLE RELATIONS AMID EUROPEAN UNCERTAINTIES
The year 2017 saw great uncertainties in Europe. "Brexit negotiation has just passed stage I. Stage II and stage III will be much tougher," Lai said.
On Dec. 15, leaders of the 27 EU members who gathered in Brussels for the winter EU summit approved the second phase of Brexit talks.
According to a guideline submitted by the General Secretariat of the European Council to the leaders, negotiations in the second phase can only progress as long as all commitments undertaken during the first phase are respected in full and translated faithfully into legal terms as quickly as possible.
"Besides, we are still waiting to see if Germany will sign up with France for an ambitious plan for further EU integration," Lai added.
But Lai believes that despite so much uncertainty facing the EU, its relations with China will not be affected, "as China is its second largest trade partner and key partner in international affairs."
"Europe is at a phase of reform and European integration is at a crossroad as populism has swept the continent," Zhao said. "Whether Europe will deepen its integration or prevent such events as Brexit, China will not interfere in the continent's internal affairs."
"Notwithstanding the various uncertainties in Europe, China's Europe policy remains consistent and rock-firm," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told a symposium in December. "We firmly support the European integration process and welcome EU's unity and development."
"We are committed to managing and handling differences on the basis of mutual respect, and will work to expand converging interests and explore new growth areas in regional cooperation to enrich and expand the strategic substance of China-Europe relations," Wang said.
BUILDING MUTUAL TRUST
On how to boost mutual trust between China and Europe, Zhao said the two sides can enhance mutual understanding through communication between media and think tanks.
Gerhard Stahl, a visiting professor at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, and the Peking University HSBC Business School, said China and Europe can enhance people-to-people exchanges through cultural activities and tourism.
"To make sure people understand the diversity or differences of this colorful Chinese population, art is one of the most interesting channels where people very quickly realize that Chinese citizens have the same problems as Europeans and where people develop sympathy," Stahl told Xinhua.
"Also, what builds trust? It is tourism if it is well done, so that people can explore the beauty, the history of China, and some modern part of China. And vice versa, if Chinese people come to see Europe, it also helps a lot," he said.
Mutual visits of Chinese and European tourists have seen an annual growth of 10.6 percent since Europe was listed as a tourist destination for Chinese citizens in 2004, according to Dai Bin, director of China Tourism Academy, a research institution affiliated with the China National Tourism Administration.
In 2016, more than 3.1 million Europeans visited China and over 3.4 million Chinese citizens visited European countries, Dai told a recent meeting on China-EU tourism.
The China-EU Tourism Year 2018 will be inaugurated in January.