China and the EU are partners, not rivals

China and Europe are partners not rivals, with close economic connectivity and strong complementarity, and bilateral cooperation is far greater than competition, Wang Wenbin, Spokesperson of China's Foreign Ministry, said. He made the comment in response to a reporter's question as to whether the EU's foreign affairs arm may advise member states to reduce dependence on Chinese supply chains. The formation and development of global industry and supply chains reflect the combined effects of market laws and corporate choices, Wang said, noting that artificial restrictions imposed for political purposes run against international cooperation and destabilize industry and supply chains, which is not conducive to economic development, and not in the interests of any country.

In citing recent remarks by Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, at the EU Ambassadors Annual Conference 2022 in Brussels, Wang noted that “Chinese workers with their low salaries have done much better and much more to contain inflation than all the central banks together.” From heating to textile products, Chinese products have been fairly important and timely choices for European countries that are scrambling to deal with a serious fuel shortage and high inflation.

In the first eight months of this year, Yiwu in Zhejiang province, the world's largest wholesale market for small commodities, exported CNY190 million worth of heating equipment, such as air conditioners and electric blankets, up 41.6% on a yearly basis. China and EU countries have become important trading partners with high economic complementarity, reflected by the significant trade between the two sides. Last year, China-EU trade exceeded USD800 billion for the first time while bilateral trade this year has been resilient, despite the pandemic, inflation and geopolitical conflicts. The China-Europe freight train, the backbone of bilateral trade, has become a strong channel between factories in China and European stores. Even amid global challenges and uncertainties, 12,000 cross-border cargo trains have operated so far this year, up 7% year-on-year. In total 1.18 million standard containers were transported, up 8%, data from China Railway showed.

China hoped that the EU would view China-EU cooperation objectively, enhance the common interests of both sides and maintain the stability of the global industrial supply chain, Wang said, as reported by the Global Times.

The South China Morning Post adds that Borrell said the EU now views economic and political competition with China as having eclipsed all other aspects of bilateral ties. “The message from China is now one of competing: competing on a political level, their economic success, their desire to have influence at all sorts of levels, their presence in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America and elsewhere,” Borrell said. While the EU remains committed to its 2019 three-pronged approach to China – partner, competitor and systemic rival – the space for partnership has been squeezed in the past two years. “It is important that we do not make ourselves dependent on critical value chains in China,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said. Borrell played down any differences among member states on China policy. “There was no objection to the substance” of a policy paper by the European External Action Service (EEAS), he said.