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Ambassador Zhang Ming's Exclusive Interview with the Financial Times

(From Chinese Mission to the European Union)


On 19 December, 2019, Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU sat down with Sam Flemming, Brussels Bureau Chief of the Financial Times (FT), and Michael Peel, FT's European diplomatic correspondent, for an exclusive interview. The following are extracts:

FT: First of all, thank you for seeing us.

Zhang: My pleasure.

FT: We have a lot to talk about. So maybe I start the questions. This is an important time obviously for European Union-China relations ahead of the Summit in Leipzig just coming up next year. And there's clearly a lot of attention on the EU-China Summit goals from earlier this year. We heard from Commission Director-General Sabine Weyand earlier this year about the investment treaty talks. We are interested in asking you about this, because she certainly suggested that these talks have not been going as well as the European Union had expected and she suggested not as well as China's communications have suggested. I wonder if you could clarify where we are on this, and do you think she's wrong?

Zhang: Both China and the EU attach great importance to cooperation between the two sides. Last April, we had a successful China-EU Summit. We did it together. After the summit, we published a very substantial joint statement. In the past eight months, my colleagues and I have been busy in turning the joint statement into concrete actions.

In May, just one month after the summit, the two sides signed two civil aviation safety agreements. This is a meaningful step. The agreements are foreseen to create 11,000 job opportunities for both sides in the coming eight years. Last month in Beijing, the two sides initially signed the geographical indications agreement. This is another meaningful step we have taken together. This is China's first high-standard and comprehensive GI bilateral agreement signed with another entity. It includes over 270 GI products. I was there at the signing ceremony and Commissioner Phil Hogan signed this agreement on the EU's behalf. Even today I could clearly remember our excitement on that day.

The negotiation of the investment agreement tops our economic agenda. The negotiation is speeding up now. DG Weyand made the remarks you mentioned on 17 December, and the next day, on 18 December, another formal round of negotiation took place in Brussels. The negotiation is still going on, as we speak. According to the schedule, in the middle of next month, there will be another formal round of talks. Personally, I am optimistic about the future prospects of the negotiation. The reasons are as follows:

First of all, high-level leaders from both sides have given sufficient political commitment to this. You may have noticed that on many occasions in the past months, President Xi Jinping has reiterated that it is important for both sides to work together to reach a high-quality and balanced investment agreement. The second reason for my optimism is that such an agreement serves the interests of both sides. So why not do that?

Yet any negotiation is a process that requires mutual respect, mutual understanding, mutual accommodation and mutual trust. I don't know why DG Weyand made such remarks before the start of this round of negotiation. Is it a tactic or a trick played by the EU side?

That reminds me of what happened last March and April before the 21st China-EU Summit took place. Back then, my colleagues and I were busy with preparations for the summit, and the EU colleagues made a lot of complaints and even criticisms. Some were even saying that the summit would not be successful. But the summit turned out to be successful. So if this was a tactic by the EU colleagues, I could understand, yet I don't think it's necessary.

What we should do now is to earnestly advance the negotiation in good faith with mutual respect, mutual accommodation and mutual trust. Talking about the speed of the negotiation, I think it is better to be a down-to-earth turtle than a cunning rabbit. When the two parties meet each other halfway, there will be hope for the negotiation. If they work in opposite directions, then there will be less hope.

FT: Do you feel that those comments from the European Union have damaged progress of this negotiation?

Zhang: I am sure it's not positive.

FT: How serious is the setback?

Zhang: I don't know. I hope we will promote it forward, not backward.

FT: DG Weyand also contradicted with Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister (Wang Yi) who said the night before that he is quite positive about that.

Zhang: That's why DG Weyand's remarks are unnecessary. But now I would rather interpret her remarks in a good way. I want to see it as a negotiation tactic, not that the EU trying to go backward. If it's trying to go backward, the story is totally different.

FT: We spoke to Charles Michel, the new Council President, recently and we heard similar messages from the Commission President von der Leyen. They want to make Europe and the European Union more assertive on the global scale. Mr. Michel said he didn't want to see the EU becoming collateral damage in a great power clash between the U.S. and China. What are your observations about how Europe's behavior is changing at the moment? Do you see EU's policy becoming more aggressive, more hostile? Or do you see this as rhetoric and no actual change in the way Europe is approaching its relations with China?

Zhang: You must have been following China's Europe policy for a long time. Our policy is consistent. We support the European integration process, support a bigger role by Europe in the international affairs and support a united and prosperous Europe. Our policy remains consistent, be it in the good times or bad times of Europe.

In Brussels, I met some former EU senior officials and they liked to talk about the kind support they've got from China during the global financial crisis. You can just look around the world. I am afraid that, in the past decades, only China has been so consistent in this policy of supporting European integration, Europe's unity and prosperity and its bigger role on the global stage.

We see Europe as an important force supporting multilateralism, free trade, and global cooperation and against protectionism. We also see Europe as an important force in the trend towards multi-polarity. I think it's a good thing for Europe to be more confident.

FT: Have you seen clear changes in the way the EU is approaching its relations with China as a result of this attempt to be more confident, which is what the Europe's leaders are currently saying?

Zhang: Well, I think on China policy, the EU has always been confident and realistic. Yet I think on other international affairs, it will be helpful for the EU to be more assertive, such as when it comes to upholding multilateralism and opposing protectionism and bullyism.

FT: Does "more assertive" mean taking more stances against the U.S. and cooperating more with China?

Zhang: We are always against zero-sum games and cold war mentality. We are opposed to irrational and wrong tendencies that try to bring today's world into the trap of cold war. We believe cooperation among major powers is a positive thing for global peace and prosperity.

And for the wrong things, we need to be courageous enough to point out they are wrong. For the right things, despite huge external pressure, it is important to keep to the right things. This is what confidence is about.

FT: What you seem to be suggesting is perhaps the EU had not been, in your view, brave enough to point these things out to the United States.

Zhang: That brings me to the topic of 5G. The 5G technology is actually a result of global innovation and cooperation. It could deliver benefits to all. It seems that the 5G has become a hot topic recently. I think several tendencies deserve vigilance.

The first tendency is to politicize cyber security. People holding such view believe that any country or its enterprise of a different social system or value system has to be suspected and restricted, brought down and boycotted. Mr. Bill Gates pointed out insightfully a few days ago that if Americans are skeptical about Huawei, then there is a reason for Chinese to suspect the American administration of manipulating an engine of a Boeing aircraft. If such logic is mainstreamed, then the cold war is coming back. I don't think such tendency is in line with the principle long held by the EU.

The second tendency is to abuse the concept of national security. Some politicians or even senior government officials are taking advantage of the public's legitimate concerns of technological security. They are repeatedly telling security lies when there is a lack of solid evidence or even the most basic knowledge of technology. They are trying to spread panic among the public. Their purpose is simple. They want to make an issue of security to bring down their imaginary adversary. Such tendency is not in line with the EU's principle either.

The third tendency is to unilateralize the concept of national security. Frankly speaking, to address cyber insecurity, only global cooperation is the way out. But now some forces are trying to resort to unilateral security measures or even touting the idea of decoupling. Such tendency towards isolation is not in line with the EU's principle either. It will only hold back technological innovation and is harmful to all.

FT: Do you think that the EU's document outlining the policy on 5G is consistent with the principles you described? Clearly from the application of the initial documents in October, it seems to be going in the direction to guide European countries away from using Chinese companies, even if China isn't named. And that's likely to be the outcome of the final document published next month. Does it worry you that it is part of the negative tendencies that you've been talking?

Zhang: I am not trying to say that the EU must accept or reject a certain company from a certain country. But it is important for the EU to keep to the very fundamental principles of multilateralism, free trade and market economy. It's important for them to stand by the principles of openness, fairness, justice and non-discrimination.

These are principles that the EU has long held dear to its hearts. So I hope that on these matters of principle, the EU would not be ambivalent but be unequivocal. Otherwise there will be serious market distortions. Today these distortive measures may be applied to 5G technology, and maybe in the future, they would be applied to furniture or even carpets. That will bring chaos to the world. Actually similar things are already happening. For example, Americans are saying that European cars are national security threats to them. It's ridiculous.

FT: Just on the same point, do you expect Huawei's efforts to reassure European buyers, for example, by offering to manufacture only in Europe, are going to be successful in defusing this problem? Is it going to resolve this?

Zhang: Where to produce its products should be determined by the business itself, not by the Chinese government. I also have a question. If they really produce all their products in Europe, will that be welcomed by European friends?

FT: I think probably I am not in a position to answer it on behalf of Europe.

FT: I want to just pull several points together. We have this position paper from the Commission and EEAS this year, which talked about the spectrum of relations with China-cooperation, competition and systemic rivalry. Now there are now several tracks that the EU is working on. On the 5G, the clear direction is skepticism towards Chinese companies. The way they defined this is very much more like the American position. We have the competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager considering proposals to allow the Commission to take a tougher line on the state-owned non-EU companies. We also have proposals on procurement, tougher procurement standards where countries are not reciprocal as the EU sees in terms of allowing market access. It seems the EU policy is getting much more towards the competition and rivalry side. And it is getting much tougher and more hostile. Is that not correct?

Zhang: In the communication published last March, they gave China three titles. For the cooperation partners, there's no doubt that we have been comprehensive strategic partners for 16 years. And for the competitor, in a market economy, it is natural for cooperation partners to have competition among them. But I would say that such competition is constructive. I'd call it cooperative competition.

The third title is systemic rival. We are caught by surprise. Next year we are going to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the diplomatic ties. In the past decades, we have never seen each other as rivals. To find a rival out of nowhere is not in the interest of the EU itself. It's not a positive thing to global peace and development. So actually the rival is not in China, but in the EU's heart.

In the past 40 years of reform and opening up, China indeed has made remarkable progress in its development. We have lifted 800 million people out of poverty. But still we are facing the challenges of uneven, unbalanced and insufficient development. Our vision is to make hard efforts for the coming decades to raise the living standards of Chinese people to what the current European living standards are. It's not an easy task to turn this vision into reality for the 1.4 billion Chinese people. To make it happen, we need enduring peace globally. We also need an open environment for global cooperation. We have a lot of things to do on our hand. So we do not have the willingness or resources to be anyone's rival. We don't want to be seen as a rival by anyone as well. In our heart, we don't have a rival.

FT: Could I come back on one element which is the proposal for discussion by the European Competition Commissioner. There has been proposal by the Dutch government as well in this area to take a tougher line on state-owned or state supported enterprises, and in particular to consider rules which might make it more difficult for state-owned or state supported enterprises from outside the European Union to purchase European Union assets or companies. Could I get your views please on this proposal? Do you think this is directed at China and do you think it respects the concept of fair competition?

Zhang: For some time I've heard many European friends saying that Europe should no longer be naive. I am trying to figure out what that means exactly and I am still confused. But my impression is that the EU often says that multilateralism and market economy are in its DNA.

I have noticed some recent proposals and developments on the EU side regarding FDI screening, 5G, and free trade. That has got some Chinese entrepreneurs working in Europe suspicious. That also has some kind of impact on Chinese investments in the EU. My colleagues and I are strongly committed to promoting China-EU cooperation, so I am following the developments with interest and concerns.

But now I would not rush to a definite conclusion or give the EU a definition. I don't think that the EU friends want to see their DNA changed, otherwise it would be disastrous for them. What I hope to see is that the EU will keep to the principles of multilateralism, free trade as well as the principles of openness, fairness, justice and non-discrimination.

As for state-owned enterprises, as far as I know, there are a great number of SOEs in European countries as well. Whether nowadays or in history, these companies have played an important role in Europe's economic and social development. In China, we have a mixture of companies of different kinds of ownerships. We have state-owned enterprises, private enterprises and also foreign-invested enterprises. In the market economy, all these companies are treated as equals.

We hope that the EU would not discriminate against a certain kind of companies simply because of their ownership structure. Otherwise it's not fair and not in line with the spirit of fair competition. Be it European SOEs or non-EU SOEs.

FT: The European attitude seems to be that there are pan-European state aid rules governing European state-owned enterprises or those seeking state support. Those state aid rules do not apply to overseas companies or aid given to companies from outside European Union by foreign governments. So they say they are trying to create a level playing field. What you're saying is that you are concerned about the potentially disastrous move. Are you worried that Europe is going to become a less attractive place for China to invest?

Zhang: Actually capitals are very sensitive and even cowardly in some cases. In case of any signs of unwelcome changes, they would be highly vigilant or even scared away. To judge a policy is good or not, it is important to look at how market responds.

FT: You've spoken of the importance the EU not taking this kind of measures. But China has recently issued an order for public institutions to stop using foreign computer equipment or software. Isn't it hypocritical that you shut foreign companies including European companies from Chinese market while saying Europeans should not?

Zhang: I read that story in media. The Chinese Mission is part of the Chinese government and I have not heard of such policy from the Chinese government. I don't know where the media got the news. I want to emphasize that China practices market economy. SOEs, foreign-invested companies and private enterprises are like swimmers in the big ocean of the market economy. They are treated as equals. They compete on a level playing field. There are no preferential treatments or subsidies given to a certain kind of companies.

FT: Right now we're seeing in the first hundred days of the new Commission, a huge emphasis on environment and particularly on the new Green Deal. One particular area we're interested in is the emissions trading area. Clearly there was a breakdown in the Madrid climate talks. Do you see a compromise is possible in the realm of credits under the Kyoto agreement? Is China going to accelerate its work on an emissions trading scheme in light of what happened in Madrid?

Zhang: Climate change is a pronounced global challenge and also a highlight of China-EU cooperation. I noticed last week the new Commission adopted the Green Deal and put forward an ambitious goal of turning Europe into a carbon-neutral continent by 2050. China appreciates the efforts made by the EU to fight climate change. The Green Deal is a very substantial and rich one. We are now taking a closer look at this deal, especially trying to figure out what kind of opportunities it is going to bring to China-EU cooperation.

Some contents of the Green Deal may have a global impact and the carbon border tax is probably one of them. So far as I know, Australia and Canada have already expressed their attention and even concerns on this issue to varying degrees. Some are asking whether such a tax is in line with WTO rules or whether it will lead to protectionism and trade tensions. Of course these issues need to be further studied, and it is a good idea for the EU to step up communication with its global partners, to ensure that the relevant action keeps to the Paris Agreement and WTO rules.

On climate change, China is an important partner of the EU. To conclude the Paris Agreement, we did a lot of things together. On emissions trading, actually in China in 2011, we started the pilot program. At the end of 2017, starting with the power sector, we officially launched a nationwide emissions trading system, covering around one-third of the national carbon emissions. In this process, we benefited from the EU support and assistance, and this is still an ongoing effort.

China is still a developing country. While facing difficult development tasks such as improving people's living standards, China has been active in fulfilling its international responsibilities commensurate with its level of development and national conditions. It's fair to say that we have achieved a lot in fighting climate change in recent years.

Last year, China's carbon intensity dropped by four percent from the previous year, or 45.8% from the level of 2005. So we have met the target ahead of schedule of reducing the carbon intensity by 40 to 45 percent by 2020 from the level of 2005. China is the largest investor in renewable energy and we account for 30% of the world's renewable energy installed capacity. China has more than half of the world's electric cars.

FT: This is specifically on the carbon border adjustment. I think it will start as a quite narrow measure potentially focusing on a couple of industries, cement is one, and steel is another. Do you anticipate an implication for China's steel industry from carbon border adjustment which targets steel from outside the European Union? And just to push you a little bit on what you said about the carbon border adjustment. When you said some people say it's potentially protectionist, are you saying that China has not assessed whether this is a protectionist measure, or are you implying that you indeed see this as a potentially protectionist measure?

ZHANG: As I said, we are now studying and assessing the Green Deal, and we have yet to come to a definite and specific conclusion. You mentioned China's steel exports to the EU. From very early on, the EU already started anti-dumping measures against Chinese steel exports. China's steel exports to the EU fell in the following years, but I would say that such a drop in China's exports is not accompanied by a drop in the EU overall steel imports, because the gap is filled by other countries. What we are now looking is the matter of principle and rules, not whether a specific product will be affected.

FT: We are going to some more points, getting on Brexit. What does China think of the UK election results? Brexit now looks certain. What opportunities does China see to work with UK separately from the EU?

ZHANG: After the UK election, China expressed congratulations to Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Our position is consistent. We hope to see a stable and open UK and EU that enjoy development. This is in the interest of all. We hope that the Brexit process could go in a steady and orderly fashion. China will promote parallel development of China-UK and China-EU relations. This policy remains unchanged.

FT: But one will be much more important than the other, one is much bigger than the other.

ZHANG: They are both important to China. It is not an either-or question. We hope to see all-win results.

FT: Does the Brexit likelihood make the UK a more or less attractive place for Chinese investment?

ZHANG: I am not an expert on investment. I am closely monitoring the developments. The UK is the origin of free trade. I believe even after Brexit, the UK will still keep to the principles of multilateralism and free trade.

FT: One quick question on the WTO breakdown. Does the breakdown of the WTO lead China interested in cooperating more with the European Union? And the European Union has proposed its multilateral interim agreement on dispute settlement related to this. Is that something that China will be interested in participating in?

ZHANG: The WTO is experiencing a heavy blow recently with the impasse of the appellate body. It is another illustration of the harm of the US unilateralism and protectionism. For China, we will continue to support the WTO-centered multilateral trade system and support the efforts made by various parties to keep the appellate body alive. We are studying how to handle cases while the appellate body is in deadlock. And we may make China's proposal in due course.

FT: NATO has been increasingly interested in China in the Summit this month, since China presents both opportunities and challenges. Clearly NATO is a military alliance, and China is not in the North Atlantic sphere. Does China see this increasing focus of NATO as a threat?

ZHANG: I've noticed that the NATO leaders meeting, for the first time, included China in its agenda. I also noticed the wording on China in the London Declaration. NATO colleagues told me that with China's growing globe profile, there is a need for NATO to assess China in terms of opportunities and challenges brought by China's rise in order to better understand China.

As I said earlier, the vision of China is to deliver a more decent life to all the 1.4 billion Chinese people and that calls for tremendous efforts. So we need global peace and we will do our best to safeguard world peace. We also need openness and we will do our best to expand openness.

And we know NATO is a trans-Atlantic alliance. On different occasions I've heard NATO saying that it has no intention to change this definition by stepping out of this geographic sphere. We hope NATO's discussion on China could be conducive to global peace and stability instead of the opposite.

FT: I am going to change subject. The European parliament yesterday gave the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to Ilham Tohti, the Uyghur economist. What was China's response to this decision by the parliament? What is China's response to the increasing international criticism on its treatment of this community?

Zhang: I have noticed the European parliament has awarded a prize to a Chinese criminal. China is strongly concerned about and firmly opposed to that. This criminal is not a human rights defender for ethnic minorities as described by some MEPs. He is a criminal inciting violence and terrorist activities. So the developments in the European parliament pose a challenge to China's sovereignty and judiciary, and undermine the global fight against terrorism.

China and Europe are both victims of terrorism. For terrorism, if it does harm to oneself, then he or she spares no efforts to fight it. If it does harm to others, then he or she is trying to give a prize to a criminal related to extremism. That will be very short-sighted and irresponsible. It is harmful not only to others but also to himself/herself eventually. The spokesperson of the Chinese mission already made a statement on this. You could refer to our website for the statement.

FT: Obviously the EU itself is increasingly criticizing China's behavior towards Uyghur. Is it something that you think will affect China-EU relations, since China recently says that it does not accept these criticisms?

Zhang: China and the EU, as I said, are comprehensive strategic partners. We have a wide range of shared interests. We have good cooperation, and also, we have differences in some areas. It's not surprising for China and the EU to have differences due to our different historic background and level of development. And the best thing to do is to resort to dialogue to enhance mutual understanding and to manage our differences.

We do not agree with "microphone diplomacy" when it comes to differences. It's not constructive at all. Repeatedly, the EU has resorted to unjust and dishonest rhetoric and behavior on some China-related issues. In practice, that would bring some negative impact on Chinese citizens and enterprises. In Chinese social media, I could see many comments by Chinese citizens expressing their dissatisfaction of the EU's attempt to interfere in China's internal affairs. It's the responsibility of the Chinese government to promote cooperation with the EU. Yet it is understandable that to promote cooperation, we have to give heed to public opinions. So that's why I said it's important to manage our differences through dialogue and communication for better understanding of each other. It's not helpful to interfere in others' domestic affairs or resort to microphone diplomacy.

FT: Chinese ambassadors in some countries have been taking more assertive or combative tone. Is this part of an attempt to more assertively bring China's message to the world?

Zhang: The primary responsibility of Chinese ambassadors posted overseas is to safeguard China's sovereignty, security and development interests as well as to promote bilateral cooperation and uphold global peace. This is the same for all Chinese ambassadors, be it in Germany, Canada, Brussels or Rwanda.

FT: One question which is actually on a completely different theme. Europe, or I should say the euro area, has increasingly over the past couple of years talked about promoting the euro as an international currency. And in particular, this became relevant in the context of the American decision not to participate in the JCPOA. Do you see any prospect of a rival currency to the American dollar and in particular of the euro becoming the rival currency? Or is it your sense that the global financial system will continue to be dominated by the dollar despite the aspirations in Europe?

Zhang: The euro is about to enter its 21st year and it's already become an important currency in global economy and trade. It is not a bad thing for there to be a diversity of currencies in the international financial system, after all our world is moving toward multi-polarity.

I have noticed that the EU is not happy about the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA and the maximum pressure on Iran. They have put in place the INSTEX, and I can see more European countries on board now. We hope this mechanism could be effective and further expand its scope of business. In a sense, that would be helpful for the euro to be stronger in the world. I think there is a clear tendency that the euro becomes a major currency in the world. As for the time it needs, it depends.

FT: It is obviously that that the INSTEX project is still being developed. It would be difficult to describe it as a success at this point. People have often questioned whether America's very muscular use of sanctions would lead other parts of the world to develop alternatives to the dollar to avoid the power of the dollar payment system. The tendency seems to be that there is no sign of the dollar losing its status or U.S. sanctions losing their power as a result.

Zhang: I agree it is too early to say that INSTEX is a success now. I believe that the EU could be more assertive in this regard. It could be a good thing in terms of breaking the dollar's dominance and also it is a good thing for global peace and security.

FT: The EU diplomats say that China should be more assertive on Iran. Russia and China haven't really stepped up as much as they could, particularly in China's case, on buying oil.

Zhang: It is my first time to hear such argument. China and Iran are long-time cooperation partners, including in the field of oil. That cooperation continues even when the U.S is imposing sanctions. I think China, EU and Russia are all making efforts to promote the resolution of the Iran nuclear issue. I understand that the EU says that China should be more assertive in this regard, just as I am saying that Europe should be more assertive. We need to do the right thing that conforms to multilateralism and global peace and stability.

FT: You mentioned global peace and stability. Obviously, as you know, there are great concerns about weapon proliferation. China is a rising military power. Does China has any interest in joining in some kind of replacement for the INF Treaty, a missile treaty that would take in Europe, maybe Russia as well as China as part of a new international non-proliferation treaty?

Zhang: China is always a force standing for peace, and we have made contribution to arms control and disarmament. I would say that our defense is entirely defensive in nature. Such defensive nature could be dated back to 2,000 years ago when we built the Great Wall, which is not offensive at all. Safeguarding global peace and protecting our motherland is in China's DNA. China has a big population and a big territory. With that, China's military power is not disproportionately formidable. We do not seek expansionism. Our job is just to protect our territory.

The INF Treaty was concluded between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. In history, it had an important role to play, and today it is also relevant. We regret that US unilaterally withdrew from the treaty. That treaty was concluded between the two countries back then given the context that they had a very large arsenal of long-distance missiles. Even today, the U.S. and Russia have the capability to make long-distance attacks. China' defensive capabilities could not be put in the same category as them. So we are opposed to any attempt to expand the INF Treaty.

FT: We discussed many subjects. Is there anything we haven't touched on but you want to mention yourself?

Zhang: Have you noticed some tendencies in culture and people-to-people exchanges in the United States and in Europe also? I wish to say a few words on that.

As you know, there is now a growing global interest in learning the Chinese language, to learn more about the Chinese civilization and modern China as well. In response to such demands, the Confucius Institutes have been established in cooperation with universities and colleges around the world to promote education in the Chinese language.

You may have noticed that under the pressure of a certain country, some EU member states are suspending their cooperation on the Confucius Institute. There is a tendency here in Europe. Many Europeans know Confucius very well. Like Socrates, he was a great philosopher, thinker and educator. The two great persons almost lived in the same period. Confucius put forward a lot of useful ideas, like peace under heaven, harmony among nations, and benevolence. These philosophies are highly relevant still today for us to approach interpersonal relations and state-to-state relations.

In the 21st century, if even Confucius is seen as a threat, then I could not think of anything else that could not be a threat. The Confucius Institute is a non-profit organization jointly established on a voluntary basis between Chinese and foreign universities. Its main purpose is to teach Chinese and Chinese civilization. The cultural and educational activities are totally open and transparent. It is similar to the French Alliance, the Goethe Institute of Germany and the Instituto Cervantes.

For some time, some American and western politicians and media are quite suspicious of the Confucius Institute. They are making attacks on these Institutes, but they have yet to come up with solid evidence. Such moves are quite radical and discriminatory. I find it hard to understand. In this regard, we hope that the EU and its member states could be more confident, refrain from ideology-driven prejudice, and not politicize a normal cultural and educational program. China and Europe both enjoy time-honored history and civilization. If even Socrates and Confucius could not communicate with each other, there will be no future for cross-civilizational dialogues.

FT: On a related point, we've seen in the U.S that there is a much tougher approach to academic visas. Are you seeing any signs of that being replicated in the European Union?

Zhang: You may have noticed that in Brussels, two universities have suspended their cooperation on the Confucius Institute. I think both the suspension of the Confucius Institute cooperation and the tightening of academic visas in the United States are negative developments in the culture and educational fields, and deserve high vigilance.

FT: Which Belgian Universities are suspending corporation? Which are the other EU countries you mentioned suspending the cooperation?

Zhang: VUB and ULB. Yet meanwhile, there are also universities from member states that have established or are establishing cooperation with China.

FT: Member states where cooperation was suspended, which are they?

Zhang: I read a report by the UK parliament hyping up the so-called Chinese academic threats. These examples I mentioned are sufficient for us to be more vigilant to such unreasonable trends in cultural and people-to-people exchanges.

FT: On my question, you mentioned the tightening of academic visas in the U.S. Have you seen any sign of tightening visas in Europe as a whole when it comes to academic visas, leaving aside the issue which we've just been discussing in Belgium?

Zhang: I have not got that impression. Yet some Chinese enterprises and citizens complain to me that it is too slow for them to get the European visas. For businesses, time and efficiency are most important. If they have to wait up to one month to get a visa, they are going to lose their customers.

FT: Thank you!

Zhang: Thank you.

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