Ambassador Zhang Ming’s speech at the European Policy Centre: China’s balanced counterargument to EU’s critics?

HE Ambassador Zhang Ming is the Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU (Credit: Chinese Mission to EU)

China’s Ambassador to the EU Mr. Zhang Ming was interviewed yesterday through Zoom by Ms. Shada Islam at the European Policy Centre on a comprehensive interview on pretty much everything, from Xinjiang and Hong Kong to the 14th Five-Year Plan, Climate Change, CAI, Two Sessions, 17+1 and COVID-19 vaccination.

On Xinjiang

One day before the EU’s 27 Ambassadors agreeing on sanctions to four Chinese officials and one entity, the Chinese Ambassador to the EU came out to set the records straight. The EU sanctions are the first against China in 30 years time. They concern alleged human rights violations against the Uighur Muslim minority in the region of Xinjiang. Next to the media fury on violations and genocides, Ambassador Zhang Ming provided yesterday his balanced two cents on the matter.

China’s Head in the EU started his speech by saying that in principle China abstains from interfering with others’ internal affairs. He also stressed that China’s constitution doesn’t allow discrimination or suppression against ethnic minorities in the first place.

He discussed how a few years ago Xinjiang was hit by terrorism and extremism causing a lot of attacks against civilians, casualties and property damage. China has taken security measures against terrorism towards deradicalisation which are similar to measures taken by other countries in the western world like the US, UK and France which have been tormented by terrorism. The Ambassador highlighted that his country has followed the UN Action Plan to Prevent Extremism which shows that the solution is found in the exit from poverty, misinformation, lack of education and unemployment. Thus, the Chinese government has invested a lot in a better education and employment opportunities for the people of Xinjiang in order to make them productive in the society and at the same time abstain from radicalisation. As a result, there is a normality achieved in the Xinjiang society while the economy last year showed 3.4% growth despite the global economic crisis of the pandemic.

Mr. Zhang characterised the allegations on concentration camps, genocide and forced labor as blunt lies by media and countries whose interests focus on hurting China. The Ambassador pointed at the EU for sourcing such demagogy from media. He added that there is no objectivity currently in the matter from the EU’s side and as such the prosperity of the Xinjiang people is threatened, which is something that China cannot tolerate.

Consequently, China’s Head in the EU underscored that the EU sanctions mean confrontation and that China prefers dialogue but if provoked the country is obliged not to back down. The Ambassador concluded on the matter by stating that Xinjiang was, is and will be open to all, from tourists to journalists and diplomats to visit and see on their own the prosperity and normality of life in the region. The Ambassadors from the EU and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights are more than welcome to visit Xinjiang and see that the western press disseminates misinformation against the country’s interests.

On Borrell’s remarks about Hong Kong

The next major topic that China’s Ambassador to the EU touched was Hong Kong, providing thus an answer to last Friday’s statement of the EU High Representative Josep Borrell. In particular, Mr. Borrell had said: “China is consciously dismantling the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle in violation of its international commitments and the Hong Kong Basic Law…The National Security Law imposed by Beijing is being used to crack down on pro-democracy forces, stifle dissent and pluralism, and erode fundamental freedoms.”

Ambassador Zhang Ming answered to EU’s stance against China over Hong Kong by providing some useful information on the issue. First of all, he clarified that the legal basis of governance in Hong Kong is the Constitution of China and the Basic Law and not the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The latter is mostly about the UK returning Hong Kong back to mainland China. The senior diplomat of China reiterated that the Declaration doesn’t say anywhere that foreign countries can interfere with China’s internal affairs.

Furthermore, Mr. Zhang Ming responded to Mr. Borrell’s remark on the “erosion” of “One Country, Two Systems” by saying that it is the riots, vandalisms, and violence in the streets of Hong Kong that threatened the “One Country, Two Systems” and that China’s National Security Law was enforced to ensure the respect of the “One Country, Two Systems”.

Regarding the “democratic backsliding” in Hong Kong, Ambassador Zhang declared that on the contrary it is under the British colony status that Hong Kong had no democracy whatsoever. Clearly the riots and lawlessness isn’t democracy but instead it is law and order that guarantees democracy.

China’s top diplomat finalised his remarks on Hong Kong by stating that it is in the EU’s interest to respect the “One Country, Two Systems” and the people’s prosperity by not interfering in Hong Kong.

Information on China’s NPC and CPPCC

The Ambassador continued the interview by providing information on last week’s Two Sessions which are the short version for the annual sessions of the National People’s Congress (NPC) and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The diplomat gave details about how the NPC and its nearly 3,000 deputies work to make decisions on important issues about development and livelihoods in China. As the people’s congresses at lower levels are elected by the people, the Ambassador views the NPC as a good example of how democracy works in China.

Mr. Zhang also gave out information on CPPCC, which is an important political organ led by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The CPPCC National Committee is composed by members of the Communist party and eight other parties, non partisans, NGOs, ethnic minority groups and various sectors that convene to provide political consultation and democratic criticism. In 2020 alone CPPCC members made more than 5,900 economic, social, political and cultural proposals. Among them are topics on the 14th Five-Year Plan, poverty eradication, population ageing, food safety and others. China’s Ambassador to the EU revealed openly to the world that he is a proud CPPCC member himself working overseas who has been making several proposals out of which an important one was on China’s geographic indications inspired by the China-EU GI agreement.

China’s 14th Five-Year Plan

Subsequently, the Ambassador continued with some useful information on the 14th Five-Year Plan. The Plan this time paves the way to a new development paradigm called dual circulations, whereby domestic circulation will be the mainstay and domestic and international circulations will reinforce each other, in line with the changing dynamics in China’s economic development and the global environment.

As for countries like US, Japan, Germany and the UK domestic demand as a share of GDP is high (over 80%), in China consumption contributes to about 60%, which can develop further. China in the 14th Five-Year Plan will focus more on domestic consumption to make growth more driven by home-grown investment and consumption. This could bring out the strengths of the huge Chinese market, make China’s economy more resilient and contribute to global recovery.

With dual circulations, China will not slam any door to the world but will keep opening up. A great example is the recently signed RCEP which is the world’s biggest FTA as well as the recently agreed CAI with the EU. Market access to China will be further facilitated and this will create ample opportunities for Europe and other partners.

As per the 14th Five-Year Plan, every year 10 million rural residents will be moving to the cities centres boosting a huge demand for services, something that will create a huge break for the service industry of the EU.

Climate change

Ambassador Zhang referred to the issue of climate change through last year’s pledge of the Chinese President Xi that China will aim to peak the reduction of CO2 emissions by 2030 towards carbon neutrality by 2060. Besides, in the 14th Five-Year Plan out of the 8 binding targets 5 are on green development. Forest coverage will grow to 24.1% of China’s land, while energy consumption per unit of GDP and CO2 emissions per unit of GDP will be reduced by 13.5% and 18% respectively. At the same time China advances with a national carbon training system which will be launched by the end of June 2021. China will give priority to building a clean, low-carbon, safe and efficient energy system, limit the total consumption of fossil fuels, use renewable energy as alternatives, and foster a new system for power supply dominated by new energy. The share of non-fossil fuel in energy consumption will be increased to around 20% by 2025 and to 25% by 2030. China will bring by 2030 its total installed capacity of wind and solar power to over 1.2 billion kilowatts, exceeding that of coal power in China today, and larger than the total installed power capacity in the US today.

The Belt and Road Initiative aims to promote green development. Hydro, wind and solar power is already a main part of energy cooperation along the routes. A study by American Enterprise Institute shows that from 2014 to 2020, investment in renewable energy as a share of total investment in Belt and Road projects rose by nearly 40%, exceeding investment in fossil fuels. While asking developing countries to do more, feasible solutions should be offered to those in need and thus China is willing to engage in three-party cooperations to make energy supply available to those in need.

Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI)

The Ambassador didn’t omit to refer to China’s important agreement cut with EU last December, CAI with the scope to effectively address the European Parliament’s sceptical voices which might delay the great fruits of the Agreement. Despite the positive remarks of Vice-President Dombrovskis and other MEPs and business leaders, there are MEPs that maintain a negative stance. While one of the issues raised is the ratification of ILO conventions, the Ambassador adamantly declared that China commits to ILO and opposes to any form of forced labor in the country. What is more, other MEPs claim opportunistically that CAI should be used by the EU as a pressure lever against other issues like Hong Kong and human rights but the Ambassador correctly said that this is an economic agreement and it should stay economic in order for both parties to yield the fruits of the development it can offer. There is a sincere hope by the Ambassador that the European Parliament will not delay unnecessarily the implementation of CAI.

COVID-19 Vaccines

On vaccination, the Ambassador revealed that China has helped the world by making vaccine donations to 69 developing countries and exports to 43 countries. In addition, 10 million doses will go to COVAX. Thus, China delivers to its President’s commitment to make the vaccine a public good. China prioritises the vaccination of health workers and high-risk groups and supports in this way the healthcare system of developing countries to cope with the stress that the pandemic enforces. Surely though, global solidarity is needed in order to make vaccination available to all.

On the sidelines, China’s Ambassador to the EU slammed the unsubstantiated criticism that China uses the vaccination exports as a propaganda tool. On the contrary, for China the exportation of the vaccines is a solid expression of global solidarity and nothing else. China abstains from the use of the vaccine as a geopolitical tool.

17+1 Cooperation

The Ambassador also referred to the 17+1 Cooperation and the Summit which took place last month through video calls. The Summit recorded the members’ strong commitment and support to this cooperation through open dialogue. The COVID-19 response is a great example of 17+1 Cooperation. He also discussed the great development of China-Europe rail routes despite the pandemic. Overall, the Ambassador is confident about the positive future of the 17+1 Cooperation.

The West’s stance on China

Mr. Zhang Ming ended his comprehensive speech with a reference to the rivalry that the West often shows over China. He made it clear that China doesn’t see others as opponents and doesn’t wish to be seen as such either. China’s 1.4 billion people only strive for peace and prosperity and the country takes pride in exiting extreme poverty for its people. COVID-19 is another contemporary example that the world faces challenges and the only way to address them is solidarity and openness. The 21st century must advance with global and mutual cooperation and leave behind once and for all any rivalry ideologies like Cold War and zero-sum games.

The Ambassador concluded with the following statement on the China-EU relations: “China-EU relationship has a value in its own right and should not be attached to any other major-country relations. The growth of China-EU relations does not target any third party. Hopefully, the EU, while developing relations with other countries, does not take China as a target. EU-US relations should not affect, still less evolve at the expense of China-EU relations. The EU advocates strategic autonomy. Leaders of major European countries said that the EU should not build an anti-China front with the US, and called for more engagement with China. These are sensible voices. Hopefully, the EU will act in this spirit and continue to approach its relations with major countries in a broad context.”

All in all, the Ambassador’s speech yesterday was a valuable and needed stimulus for the China-EU relationship in global times of challenge. He addressed the critical input from the EU in detail. This speech can be the missing balanced angle next to Europe’s frequently met inclination to sensationalism. Undeniably, the world needs now more than ever a strong and steady China-EU relationship in order to balance out the lurking challenges ahead.

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