Have the EU and China “Integrated?”

23423423The Premier of China, Li Keqiang, was in Europe from June 28 to July 2, 2015. The main focus of his European tour was Brussels and Paris. In both capitals, the Chinese Premier held bilateral talks and attended the 17th China-EU Summit and spoke at the headquarters of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Following the talks with the current EU leaders, Donald Tusk, and Jean-Claude Juncker, a general joint statement and a separate statement on climate change were adopted. Several documents on co-operation in the fields of scientific and technological development, intellectual property rights, regional policy and customs duties were signed.

According to the Chinese guest, the results of his talks with the EU opened a new chapter in bilateral relations. This, apparently, should be indicated by the fundamental decision to “integrate” the Chinese One Belt, One Road project and the European Investment Plan.

The former was proposed in 2013 by President Xi Jinping and generally involves the creation of a number of transport and infrastructure corridors by sea and land, which will connect China with different regions of Asia and Europe.

Approved in December 2014 by the European Parliament, the Investment Plan involves an investment of about 315 billion euros over the next three years into the economy of some EU countries in order to overcome the negative phenomena in the European economy as a whole.

During the talks with French Prime Minister Manuel Valls held in Paris on June 30, Li Keqiang proposed to enhance the level of bilateral co-operation in various sectors of industry and agriculture, contribute to the creation of more favorable conditions for bilateral trade and joint banking operations (including in third countries), as well as the development of “people’s diplomacy

Manuel Valls gave a generally positive response to these proposals. According to commentators, their implementation should help improve the competitiveness of the French economy and the technological level of the Chinese economy. The parties signed a number of agreements on economic co-operation both in the bilateral format and in third countries.

An important phase of the Chinese Premier’s European tour was his speech at the headquarters of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) located in Paris. Established in the late 40s of the last century in order to implement projects under the Marshall Plan, this influential organization now includes 34 countries, accounting for 60% of the global GDP.

Since 2007, the leadership of the OECD has been negotiating with several countries for their possible accession to the organization. Among them are all the BRICS countries.

As for China, the mere fact that the Chinese Premier gave a speech at the OECD headquarters indicates mutual interest in a speedy accession of the world’s second largest economy to this organization.

Li Keqiang spoke of the need for developing a “real economy” in order to overcome the global downturn in business activity and China’s willingness to participate in this process.

In particular, he said: “If we combine the relatively cheap Chinese production lines with modern technology, jointly developed or purchased from developed countries, not only can we meet the demand of developing countries, but are also able to reduce the price, improve product quality and save energy.” This tempting offer was certainly taken into account by his audience.

The outcome of the Chinese Premier’s European tour has been viewed very positively in both China and Europe. In particular, the EU-China Summit has been referred to as “strategically important”, and the current stage of China’s relations with the EU on the whole as the “golden age.”

There is every reason for such an enthusiastic evaluation. The rapidly growing (10-15% per annum) two-way trade saw a volume increase in excess of 520 billion dollars in 2014. Also rapidly increasing is the amount of accumulated mutual investments, which in the same 2014 reached 230 billion dollars.

The general benevolent atmosphere prevalent during the Premier’s tour was duly noted in China. In particular, it was noted the extremely warm welcome he received in France.

At the same time, the ritual (“tabloid-style”) articles of some western media on “human rights abuses” in China are considered unimportant. In any case, they did not dampen the success of Li Keqiang’s European trip.

This tour fits into a number of significant events testifying to China’s high level of activity in the international arena. Only a month ago the same Li Keqiang toured a number of countries in Latin America. In September, the Chinese leader Xi Jinping is expected to make a state visit to the USA.

We are witnessing complicated maneuvers with the participation of all world actors. Among them are the leading European countries, whose level of dependence on the United States is sometimes unnecessarily overstated.

In China, it is believed (and not without reason) that the Europeans’ dependence on US services in the field of security is not as great as, for example, among the Australians, with whom China is successfully developing economic relations.

Therefore, Chinese experts believe that the EU countries can develop economic relations with China in an even freer mode than Australia.

In this respect, it is no coincidence that the signing of documents in Beijing, that launch the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) headed by China, and the European tour of the second person in the Chinese hierarchy took place on the same dates.

The participation in the ABII by the leading countries of Western Europe (contrary to the cautious attitude to it from the United States) has emphasized the very fact of its creation. It once again witnessed that the political category of “the West” is very conditional.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the Asia-Pacific region, specially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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