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Ambassador Zhang Ming Gives an Exclusive Interview to South China Morning Post

(From Chinese Mission to the European Union)

2020/06/01

On May 29, 2020, Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the European Union, had an interview with Keegan Elmer, a journalist with South China Morning Post. Ambassador Zhang answered questions on the decision related to national security legislation in Hong Kong, China-EU high-level exchanges, BIT talks, China's policy toward Europe, and China 's diplomatic style. The transcript is as follows:

It is untenable for the EU to accuse China of not honoring international commitments citing the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Reporter: Yesterday, the National People's Congress of China adopted a decision to set in motion the legislative process regarding national security in Hong Kong, a move which was criticized by some Americans and Europeans. Today, EU High Representative Josep Borrell issued a declaration on behalf of the 27 member states, expressing grave concern over this issue. But he also said that sanctions are not the way to solve problems, and that only one member state raised the issue of possible sanctions against China at today's FAC meeting. What do you think of the EU's response?

Ambassador Zhang: Yesterday, the National People's Congress of China adopted a decision on establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) at the national level, which has been closely followed by the international community, including the EU. I noticed that the EU said that it has an interest in Hong Kong's prosperity and stability under the framework of "one country, two systems". I wish to point out that in Hong Kong, like in any sub-national region of any country, national security is the prerequisite for social stability and prosperity. The decision of the NPC is aimed at closing national security loopholes in Hong Kong, stopping violence and social disorder that started last summer, creating a more peaceful and stable environment, improving the legal system, and fostering a more predictable business environment for various parties conducting cooperation with Hong Kong, which serves the interests of the EU.

The Chinese Central Government has reiterated its firm commitment to fully implementing the "one country, two systems" policy. The national security legislation under discussion will not change Hong Kong's capitalist system, its high degree of autonomy, and its legal system, nor will it affect the independence of the SAR judiciary and its right of final adjudication. The NPC decision only targets acts of separatism, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference that seriously undermine national security. It will not impinge on the democratic rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents, nor the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong. There is no need for European friends who do business, live, work or study in Hong Kong to worry at all.

I have noticed the EU declaration on Hong Kong. I want to emphasize that the legal basis for the governance of Hong Kong by the Chinese government is the Constitution of China and the Basic Law of Hong Kong, not the Sino-British Joint Declaration. National security underpins the existence and development of a country. Upholding national security is always a duty of the central government. The decision of the NPC has sufficient legal basis. It is untenable for the EU to accuse China of not honoring international commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. I fully agree that EU-China relations should be based on mutual respect and trust. To enhance mutual respect and trust, it is imperative to observe international law and the basic norms governing international relations, including non-interference in others' internal affairs. We hope that the EU will take an objective and fair stand on Hong Kong-related issues and take real actions to sustain the sound and steady development of China-EU relations.

Reporter: Since last year, Hong Kong has become the most sensitive topic in China-EU relations. The EU has issued several statements on this issue, to which China has responded. Are you worried that this issue will cause more troubles to China-EU relations this year?

Ambassador Zhang: China and Europe have a wide range of common interests, consensus and cooperation. Due to differences in history, culture, and level of development, it is quite normal for us to have different views. This is not to be feared. Both sides believe that we should strengthen cooperation in areas where we converge, and enhance mutual understanding and manage differences through dialogue in areas where we diverge. This is a valuable asset and embodies the spirit of mutual respect, trust and partnership. Our two sides have maintained communication on issues related to Hong Kong, including our recent exchanges on the NPC decision. Even if we may not see eye to eye for the time being, we need to manage differences, continue to cooperate in areas of common interests, and work together for the interests of the wider international community. This is the right way to go.

The 22nd China-EU Summit will be held via video conferencing.

Reporter: Can you tell us more about the arrangements for high-level exchanges between China and the EU in the coming months? Has China invited President Ursula von der Leyen to attend the 22nd China-EU summit in Beijing? Will the Leipzig Summit be held as scheduled?

Ambassador Zhang: This is a big year for China-EU relations, with a full agenda for high-level exchanges, including the 27+1 summit and the regular China-EU Summit. The original diplomatic agenda has been somewhat affected by the COVID-19. For example, the 22nd China-EU Summit originally scheduled for late March was postponed. The two sides are in contacts to reschedule the summit as soon as possible. Due to the impact of the pandemic, we have decided to hold an online video summit. Prior to this, we will hold the high-level strategic dialogue, and discuss cooperation in such areas as trade and environmental protection. Since the new EU leadership was inaugurated last year, leaders of both sides have expressed a strong wish to maintain communication. Leaders of the two sides will meet face-to-face at the earliest possible opportunity when conditions permit.

To conclude the China-EU investment agreement on schedule is of great significance to the post-corona recovery

Reporter: Today, Chinese Ministry of Commerce announced that the 29th round of negotiations on the China-EU investment agreement was concluded and that positive progress has been made. Can you tell us more about the latest progress? Will the two sides complete the negotiation before the Leipzig Summit in September?

Ambassador Zhang: The negotiation on the investment agreement is at the top of this year's agenda between China and the EU. Last year, leaders of the two sides agreed to complete the negotiation before the end of this year. Our teams have been working very hard. Since the end of last year, our two sides have held one round of negotiations almost for each and every month. Even the pandemic has not slowed the pace. Both sides attach great importance to the negotiation and invest a lot in it. The pandemic has shed new light on the importance of this agreement. Completing the negotiation as scheduled will be of great significance to the recovery of the global economy, including the Chinese and European economy. It will send a signal of the shared commitment of China and Europe to multilateralism and free trade. China pays close attention to the progress of the negotiation and has made great efforts to advance the negotiation. However, it takes two to tango. We hope that the EU will work with China in a pragmatic and flexible way with a view to reaching a high-level and mutually beneficial agreement at an early date.

As you said, the two sides just held the 29th round of negotiation this week. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said that the two sides had made good progress. Another two rounds of negotiation will be held in the next two months. Our teams are speeding up the negotiation to translate the political consensus into actions.

The China-US trade deal will not affect the legitimate rights and interests of Europe. I hope that Europe will keep a good business environment for Chinese enterprises

Reporter: Europe is watching the China-US phase one trade deal in which China commits to increasing agricultural and industrial imports from the US and expanding market access for US companies. Will China give Europe the same treatment in these areas? Have you discussed this issue with European companies? What is their opinion?

Ambassador Zhang: China and the United States play an important role in global industrial and supply chains, and are the most important markets for EU companies. The China-US phase one deal is an all-win solution, serving the interests of China, the US and global partners like EU and boding well for the world economy. The deal is in compliance with WTO rules, not targeted at any third party, nor sacrificing the legitimate rights and interests of any third party.

Opening-up is China's basic state policy. As President Xi Jinping reiterated, the door of China will only open wider and wider. As Premier Li Keqiang emphasized at yesterday's press conference, China will not waver in its commitment to opening-up, nor is it possible for us to shut our door to the outside world. Openness is as indispensable to a country's development as air is to human beings. One would run the risk of suffocation without open air. This sends a very clear signal.

Over the past 40 years, China has pursued all-round opening-up, covering both the United States and Europe, both developed and developing countries. The expansion of market access and import, as you referred to, is in line with China's set policy of reform and opening-up, and it is an important step taken by China on its own accord to further open up to the rest of the world. Over the years, China has launched a series of opening-up measures, including opening of the financial and automobile sectors, as well as initiating the international import expo.

Procurement from the United States is a market-driven decision based on price and commercial considerations. The Chinese government encourages domestic companies to work on import deals with their American counterparts in keeping with WTO rules and market principles. This will not discriminate against goods and services in other countries and regions, including those from the EU.

The EU is an important trade partner of China, and has been China's largest source of imports and important source of FDI. China is taking the lead in recovering from the COVID-19 as production resumption accelerates. The recovery of the Chinese market presents huge opportunities for its trade partners, including the EU, spurring their production resumption and economic recovery. China has become a major contributor to business growth for many European multinationals. The auto industry is a good example. Due to the increasing awareness of hygiene and social distancing, demand for automobiles is on the rise. The Chinese market is huge, and the purchasing power of its 1.4 billion consumers will only grow stronger. China will continue to expand imports, optimize the business environment, and build an open economy of a higher quality. In this process, we welcome more quality goods, services and enterprises to China from the EU. It is pointed out in this year's Government Work Report that China will significantly shorten its negative list for foreign investment, introduce a negative list for cross-border trade in services, and speed up the construction of pilot free trade zones. All this will provide European investors with greater business opportunities.

Chinese and European companies look forward to benefiting from free trade and open markets with a sound business environment and fair competition. We hope that the EU will relax restrictions on high-tech exports to China as soon as possible, which will create more business opportunities and further unleash trade potential. We also expect the EU to observe fairness, impartiality and non-discrimination in its trade policy and to keep open, inclusive, and confident toward foreign investment, fostering a fairer, more transparent and facilitated business environment for foreign investors, including Chinese investors. Expanding market access and openness is a common endeavor for both China and the EU and is in the interest of both sides.

Reporter: It is reported that EU is discussing the idea of strengthening FDI screening although China is not directly named. Are you worried that the EU might tighten restrictions on investment from China?

Ambassador Zhang: I am closely following the EU's policy developments on FDI screening and have been in touch with Chinese companies and investors in Europe. I could feel their concerns and even anxiety. You know, capital is averse to risk, and might run away at the slightest sign of unease. Last year, Chinese FDI to the EU declined. We hope that the EU will keep open and inclusive, creating a good environment for Chinese investors. Investment can bring about jobs and growth. It is a mutually beneficial thing for China and the EU.

China's policy toward Europe defined by "three supports" is hardly seen in other major countries.

Reporter: Due to the pandemic and other factors, the wave of Euroscepticism is sweeping across the EU. A leading figure of Italy's Five Star Movement said last month that Italy should use its good relations with China as a bargaining chip against the EU. Will that hurt China's relations with Five Star and other political parties? What does the rise of Eurosceptical forces mean for China and China-EU relations?

Ambassador Zhang Ming: About two weeks ago, the EU celebrated the 70th birthday of the Schuman Declaration. No doubt, the founding and growth of the EU are of historic significance and provide inspiration for integration on other continents. In the European integration process, there have been both tailwinds driving vigorous advancement and headwinds causing bumps and difficulties. This is something quite natural. This is life. Chinese philosophy holds that opportunities lie in crises. In a challenging time, complaints would lead nowhere, and efforts must be made to turn difficulties into opportunities. The EU's history is a telling example, in that it has managed to turn every crisis into an opportunity for further development. For instance, with Brexit, the European Parliament election last year saw a record turnout rate. I have been watching the EU's response to COVID-19. Despite the difficulties and challenges at the very beginning, the EU has been able to handle the crisis well and smartly, giving a boost to its integration process and putting its development on a more resilient track.

China adheres to the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence. Non-interference in others' internal affairs is a basic principle for China's diplomacy. China's policy toward Europe is defined by "three supports", namely, supporting the European integration process, supporting a united and strong EU, and supporting a bigger role by Europe in international affairs.China has consistently pursued this policy for years. There is hardly any other major country that has been so unequivocal and consistent in expressing the "three supports" toward Europe. It is our continuous belief that European integration is in our interests and that the development of China-EU relations is beneficial for both sides. China's relations with the EU and its member states are an integral whole, reinforcing but not undermining each other. China is open to dialogue and cooperation with all players that commit to growing China-EU relations. This contributes to mutual understanding, and the EU's peace, stability and development. Such cooperation is not based on ideological or geopolitical considerations, and therefore, should not be politicized.

In the past 45 years since the establishment of diplomatic ties, mutually beneficial cooperation has always been the mainstay of China-EU relations, no matter how the time may evolve. It will remain so in the future. I have heard some voices blaming China for seeking a geopolitical agenda and dividing Europe. This is nothing but groundless speculation. China has no intention, motivation nor capability to divide Europe, not least because a divided Europe is not in China's interests.

China's diplomatic tradition, rooted in its time-honored culture, features honesty, justice and rationality.

Reporter: About China's diplomatic style. It has been heatedly discussed that China's diplomats are becoming more aggressive. Some experts said that "wolf-warrior diplomacy" does not serve China's good, for lack of convincing arguments and professionalism. How do you look at this issue? Will that bring more troubles to your job?

Ambassador Zhang Ming: China follows an independent foreign policy of peace. The primary responsibility for Chinese diplomats is to uphold China's sovereignty, security and development interests and safeguard world peace and prosperity, as is the case for other countries' diplomats.

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China over 70 years ago, China's diplomacy has established a tradition featuring friendship and flexibility yet being firm in upholding principles. We value honesty, justice and rationality. Such a tradition is rooted in China's 5,000-year civilization. Our ancestors said that a great cause should be pursued for the common good. For generations, we Chinese have valued benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, trustworthiness, and we have taught ourselves to be moderate, respectful, sparing and tolerant. Such traditional cultural values are well incorporated into China's foreign policy today, like the Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence, the vision of a community of a shared future for mankind, neighborhood diplomacy featuring amity, sincerity, mutual benefit and inclusiveness, as well as the principle of sincerity, real results, amity and good faith in its Africa policy.

Our world is not short of unfairness and injustice. We inherit from our ancestors the approach of "justice in return for injustice" and "reciprocating kindness with kindness". Chinese diplomats, wherever they are, remain committed to friendship, cooperation, mutual understanding and world peace and development. Yet in face of baseless accusations, malicious attacks, or any attempts to meddle in China's internal affairs or harm its core interests, my colleagues and I will definitely stand out to safeguard national dignity and people's interests.

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