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Transcript of Ambassador Fu Cong’s Interview with the South China Morning Post
2022-12-23 17:00

On 22 December, 2022, Fu Cong, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, took an exclusive interview with South China Morning Post Senior Correspondent Finbarr Bermingham. The transcript of the interview is as follows:

SCMP: Welcome to Brussels. We start generally by talking about your own ambitions and your plans for being here in Brussels. It's been a turbulent few years in Europe’s relationships with China. Do you have any plan to improve bilateral ties? What would be your areas of focus to do that?

Fu Cong: First, let me say that it's a great honor for me to be appointed as the Chinese Ambassador to the EU, and that means a lot of heavy responsibilities as well. As you mentioned, there have been some turbulent years in our bilateral relationship, but I think I've come to Europe at quite an opportune time.

First, we had successfully concluded the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Actually, one of the biggest takeaways I've always told my European colleagues from that important Party Congress is the continuity and stability of China's policy, both internally and externally. During the Congress, we have reiterated our commitment to the market economy, our commitment to reform and opening up. And externally, we have reaffirmed our policy of peace and policy to seek common prosperity for all countries. So these are important messages we want to convey to the outside world. All these have provided the sound basis, or if you like, the general framework for our policy towards Europe. So this is a message I want to convey to our European colleagues.

Second, there is another event immediately before I came here, which was the visit by President Michel of the European Council (to China). This was the first face-to-face meeting (between the leaders of both sides) during the pandemic or after the pandemic, also immediately after the conclusion of the 20th National Congress of the Party. The two leaders had very in-depth discussions on a wide range of issues. Quite a number of important agreements have been reached. There were a lot of commonalities between our positions. Both sides expressed the willingness to move our relationship forward. I think that is very important. So to me, that was very reassuring from the top leadership. I have very clear guidelines as to how the relationship should be moving.

As a matter of fact, we have always attached great importance to our relationship with the EU. As we see it, the relationship is of fundamental importance in the turbulent world, in the world where profound changes are taking place. I would even say that how this bilateral relationship develops will, to a large extent, determine in which way the world moves, especially at a time when profound changes are taking place. And we see China and Europe as two great forces for world peace, two major markets for world economy and two great civilizations for human progress. Actually, these are not my words. They are my President's words. This is how we see Europe and our relationship with Europe. My job here is to promote, expand and deepen our relationship and to overcome the difficulties or apparent difficulties, frankly speaking.

As we see it, there is no fundamental conflict of interests between our two sides. In terms of economy, we have great complementarities. As a matter of fact, we have many things in common. In the field I work, in the foreign policy aspect, we all advocate a balanced world, a multi-polar world, we all practice multilateralism. We have cooperated quite well on some very important global issues. The most recent example is the COP15 on the biodiversity. We cooperate very well also on some other regional and global issues, like the Iranian nuclear issue which I was involved very heavily before coming here. There are many things that we have and can work on.

To further our cooperation and to answer your questions directly, what are my priorities coming here? Broadly speaking, we have four areas. One is to maintain and resume all levels of contacts. Some of the contacts have been done online and some were even suspended. Now, with the pandemic petering out, with the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic on travels and exchanges eased, my first job is to resume all these contacts, face-to-face contacts. Actually between China and Europe, we have different levels of contacts. Of course the highest level is what we called the China-EU summit, that is between the leaders. This year we had a successful video conference between the two sides, our President and the Premier on our side, and the two Presidents on the EU side. Next year we may consider resuming this face-to-face exchange of visits. Below that, we have what we called the “Five Major High-level Dialogue Mechanisms”. We have the strategic dialogue. We have the HED which is the high level economic and trade dialogue. We have this digital cooperation and also the environment and climate change, and people to people dialogue. And below that, as we have counted, there are about over 70 dialogue mechanisms at the Vice Ministerial level or at the DG's level. All these are very important dialogues. We want to maintain or in certain cases, resume all these contacts. So this is my number one priority.

My second priority is to promote the practical cooperation. Because after all these dialogues there are areas that certain actions are needed to follow up in terms of projects, especially in the economic and scientific and technological field. For all those, we are ready to follow up. One of the most recent examples is Geographic Indication agreement. We have done the first batch of 100 brand names. Now we are compiling the list for the second batch, which is, in our cases, about 175 (brands).

The third area is to strengthen our cooperation and coordination in dealing with global issues. The climate change is one of them. And also the non-proliferation issues and so on so forth. We are ready. As I said, both China and the EU advocate multilateralism, improving global governance and things like that. We want to deepen our coordination with the EU.

The fourth area is people-to-people contacts. Cultural exchanges and the tourism, for instance. Because of the pandemic, this has been severely hampered. Now we want to resume as fast as we can.

SCMP: Thank you for being comprehensive. You mentioned the visits of President Michel, (German) Chancellor Scholz obviously visited Beijing as well. Can we expect return visits? Do you expect President Xi (Jinping) to be in Europe this year, next year rather, or Premier Li Keqiang in Europe in the new year.

Fu Cong: First, for the next year we're going to have a new Prime Minister, a Premier. Exactly who that is, I have one person in my mind, but it is not announced yet. I'm sure all these will be under consideration, but it's too early to tell whether that will materialize next year or the year after. But you can rest assured that China is very positive to maintain these high-level contacts at the top leadership level.

SCMP: You mentioned the list of difficulties. You said, I think you said, so-called difficulties or supposed difficulties, something like that. I mean there are people in Brussels who would disagree. Perhaps I'm sure, as you've seen since you arrived here, everything in Brussels these days is seen through the lens of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There are concerns continually about the relationship between Russia and China. I want to ask, is there something that you’ve been discussing with leaders? I give you a quote from Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Union's trade commissioner, the other day. Speaking at a EU-China business summit, he said China's ambiguity concerning Russia's aggression was noticed in Brussels and all of the EU capitals. This continues to influence the debates about how relations should evolve. And so I guess the question is how do you explain that relationship to your European colleagues?

Fu Cong: Indeed, actually, even before coming here, I know that Ukraine crisis is becoming a problem for our bilateral relationship with the EU. But frankly speaking, we don't believe the Ukraine crisis should be an issue, much less a problem, between China and the EU, because it is not. We understand that the EU or the European countries have their own relations with Russia, and we also have our own relationship with Russia. But it should not become an issue between China and the EU, because as we all know, for big countries like China and Russia, the relationship is multifaceted. It's not a one-issue relationship.

So I don't think it's fair to say that because of China's position on Russia or China’s relationship with Russia, the China-EU relationship should be hampered. I don't see the logic there. As to the Ukraine crisis, our position has been quite consistent. There is no ambiguity, frankly speaking. Our president has made four points. First, the territorial integrity and sovereignty of all countries should be respected. Second, all the legitimate security interests need to be respected. Third, all the international laws, in particular, the UN charter should be respected, and should be abided by. And fourth, all the peaceful efforts should be encouraged. So we can't see how much clearer you can be in that respect.

We know that the Ukraine crisis is very much on the mind of the European politicians and diplomats, and they tend to see other issues through the prism of this issue. What we see this, our position is that now this conflict has been ongoing for 10 months, what is most important is to stop the fighting, to achieve a ceasefire in order to save lives. We will support all efforts in that respect. We know that some countries or some people in certain countries do not want to see the cessation of hostility there. We don't think that is right.

SCMP: Who would you be referring to?

Fu Cong: You know whom I'm talking about.

SCMP: Why don’t you tell me? 

Fu Cong: We witness that from the United States.

SCMP: Do you think the United States doesn't want the hostility to stop?

Fu Cong: That's our assessment. We know that some people are profiting from this crisis, right? They are selling a huge amount of arms. And also, actually with respect to the spillover effects of that crisis, the energy, we know who is profiting from the energy crisis the European countries are experiencing. Again, the U.S., right?

I know that the European countries understand this situation more keenly than us, I would say. We have seen this recent IRA. People need to realize (that). So it is in the interest of the majority of countries to put a stop to the fighting. So that is what we have been urging. And actually, when I came here, I heard people saying that China is the biggest beneficiary of this crisis. I see that quite strange and peculiar. Frankly speaking, we see ourselves as a collateral damage, if you like, of that crisis.

SCMP: In what regard?

Fu Cong: First, (for) China, both Russia and Ukraine are good friends. So we do not want to choose between friends. That's the starting point of our position. So we want to maintain good relations with all countries. We had good relationship with Ukraine and Russia before the crisis. We want to maintain that relationship, but this crisis has put us in a very difficult position. So China is not profiting. This is politically speaking. In terms of economics, we have this China railway express which are actually the trains coming from China and transporting all the goods. Because of the crisis, some of the routes were interrupted. And so economically, China is not benefiting either. In particular, the European countries, as you mentioned, are seeing the relationship with China through that prism. That again put a lot of strain on our relationship.

So that's why the message after I came here I've been sending is that this issue should not become an issue between China and the EU. China is willing to facilitate the peace efforts, but we do not want to see each side imposing preconditions for any dialogue. So that's why we need to be more forward looking. As I always say, we not only should have a warm heart, we should also have a cool head. That's the job of diplomats. We need to figure out the way out of this crisis.

SCMP: The European Union has repeatedly asked for China to use its influence to encourage Russia to stop the invasion of Ukraine. And they pointed the no limit, you know I'm referring to the agreement signed on the eve in Beijing Olympics. This is the logic in Brussels. How do you respond to that?

Fu Cong: I also heard that. In terms of China using our influence, actually on the second day of the breakout of that, the so called special military operation.

SCMP: You refer to that as an invasion or?

Fu Cong: I'm saying that as what the Russians have called it. So the second day after the start of that operation, there was an important phone conversation between Chinese President Xi and President Putin. During that conversation, President Xi clearly advocated and tried to seek a peaceful solution. People tend to forget that. I know that people here have some misgivings about the so-called no-limit relationship. First, I would say that they have read too much into this terminology. One of the features of the Chinese foreign policy is that we establish partnerships with almost all countries, with Russia and with the EU and with almost all the European countries and other countries.

One of the good things about this partnership is that it is not a military alliance, unlike the military alliance between some European countries with the U.S.. So we do not have treaty obligations. Actually, that's based on historical lessons, frankly speaking, we have drawn from the European experience. We know that there were quite huge volumes that have been written about how the first World War started in Europe. People said because of all these entanglements of treaty obligations, those European powers actually sleepwalked into the first World War.

So the relationship between China and Russia or with all countries, frankly speaking, are not treaty alliance. We're partners. That's one thing. Secondly, in terms of the development of relations, we do not have any limits, artificial limits with any other country's relationship when it comes to develop good neighborly relations. Why do we need to impose artificial limits, frankly speaking? So those words can be used also in our relationship with the EU. We are ready to say that we have no limit between our relations either. So people should not read too much into this. As I said, China and Russia being two big powers, our relationship is multifaceted, right? On issues we see eye to eye with each other, we support each other, as we do on many issues. But on issues which we do not see eye to eye, on which our interests do not coincide one hundred percent, we respect each other's position.

That's how we approach our relationship with Russia. Frankly speaking, I feel somewhat disappointed, I would say, that even nowadays, 10 months after the start of this crisis, people are still using this to say that China is on the wrong side. I can understand that immediately after the start of the crisis, the European countries, as a knee-jerk reaction, said how can you reach that agreement immediately before the start of the crisis. But 10 months after that, the facts are shown that China is not providing military assistance or support to Russia. Actually, our position has been quite balanced, you have to admit. And we are ready to engage in any peaceful efforts. So 10 months after this and after all the facts are clear, people are still saying because you signed agreement prior to the start of the crisis, you should be criticized or even condemned. Frankly speaking, either the logic is not clear, to put it mildly. I would even say that some people are deliberately using this to undermine our relationship with European countries. We know who is behind this. That power is sparing no efforts, I would say, in trying to undermine our relationship.

So we know that in Europe, there are visionary leaders. And actually the EU had developed to this stage because of the grand vision of the previous or last generations of visionary politicians. Nowadays we are now coming to another historical juncture, I would say. People are saying that great changes are taking place in the world and international situation. We also need visionary leaders, especially on the part of Europe to see clearly on what is good for Europe and what is not good. The EU has been talking about strategic autonomy. First, we support that great idea. Secondly, we really hope that the European countries and the European leaders, in particular, exercise strategic autonomy in their policy, especially in their policy vis-a-vis China.

SCMP: Let me ask you about some specific issues here that may also be of interest of our readers. One of the big events in the last couple of years in EU-China relations has centered on sanctions from March 2020. Obviously, that led to the collapse of the investment agreement. Is it a priority for you to unlock the agreement and to have these sanctions removed? And how do you see that happening?

Fu Cong: Exactly, that is one of my priorities. And from my interactions with my European interlocutors, I also see that this is very high on their agenda as well. As a matter of fact, when President Michel visited China, he personally raised that issue. And the other day when I met with Mr. Bjoern Seibert, Head of Cabinet of European Commission President  Von der Leyen, he also mentioned that. I can also convey the message to our European colleagues that it is also high on our agenda.

Before coming to Europe, I visited quite a number of Ministries (in China) and a common theme that emerged from my interaction with my Chinese colleagues is that we need to really revive this. Firstly, it is a result of 7 years, 35 rounds of negotiation. Secondly, this will enhance our economic relationship to a much higher level. Some of the complaints that European business people have vis-a-vis Chinese markets are concerns (of) the market restriction or the market access, I would say. And actually that agreement would resolve many of the concerns that the European business people may have.

So I would like to work with all my European colleagues to resuscitate this agreement. We know that because of the sanctions, this has been postponed or hanging in the air in the European parliament. I don't want to comment on the merits of the sanctions. Because first we don't believe that the sanctions imposed by the EU were warranted. And secondly, when China imposed sanctions, that was in response, that's a basic fact people need to bear in mind. China did not impose sanctions because China wants to punish anybody. China impose sanctions in response to the sanctions that the EU have imposed on us.

SCMP: But I guess we're at a deadlock because the parliament won't let the investment deal go through while the sanctions are in place. They also say that because of what they say that the human rights condition on which the sanctions were predicated hasn't improved. You may disagree, but this is their rationale. Therefore, how do you break the impasse?

Fu Cong: First, as I said, the sanctions imposed in the first place by the Europeans are unwarranted because the human rights situation in Xinjiang is not as what they say. They come to their conclusion based on a lot of misinformation, I would say, some of them are outright lies and fabrications. Because one of the serious accusations about the situation in Xinjiang is there is a genocide. I can give you a very simple figure to show that how ridiculous that accusation is. In the 1950s, the total population of Uyghurs in Xinjiang was 2 million. Now how many we have? 12 million. So if there were genocide, how can that be? And also the livelihood, the life expectancy of all the nationalities, including ethnic minorities in Xinjiang have increased dramatically. First they imposed the sanctions on erroneous information, misinformation or lies. So they were extremely unwarranted. And in order to safeguard, to protect our own dignity, we retaliated by imposing sanctions.

So now what to do? I hope that situation can bring some people in the European Parliament to their senses. The Chinese people are quite practical people. We are ready to let bygones be bygones. How about lifting the sanctions simultaneously? Actually the CAI is becoming the victim. Why do you need to link these sanctions with the ratification of CAI. CAI in the first place is mutually beneficial. It's not as if it was a favor that the EU is planning to give to China so that you have decided to withdraw that favor because China has not done things up to your standard.

SCMP: So you will be happy to do it simultaneously, or China will move first to lift the sanctions?

Fu Cong: Why should China move first? Because the sanctions were not imposed first by China. That is the reason why I believe that their logic does not hold water. Right? They imposed the sanctions first, and now they say that in order for us to lift our sanctions, you need to lift your sanctions first. How can that be possible? And as I said, we imposed sanctions to protect our dignity, national dignity. And do you think that can satisfy our concern by lifting our sanctions first? We did not ask the Europeans to lift their sanctions first because they were the first to impose so that they should be the first to lift, right? But we are ready to say that let's lift the sanctions together, simultaneously, so that we can really let bygones be bygones.

SCMP: I guess you will never agree on the accusations about human rights. 

Fu Cong: Exactly. Of course. Because they are not true.

SCMP: But I'm saying from the European perspective, perhaps this is the red line. They cannot lift sanctions because they point at the research and the UN report. So I know you're gonna disagree, but this is their logic.

Fu Cong: I'm sure you are aware that those reports were actually the results of a compilation of misinformation, as we always say. And the then Human Rights Commissioner was not very happy. It was under huge pressure from certain quarters that the report was released. And that report did not reflect what the Madame High Commissioner saw during her visit to Xinjiang. She went to all the places she requested. She met all the people she requested to meet. She was quite happy with that visit. But when she came back to Geneva, she was presented with such a report written by I don't know who, and then she was under tremendous pressure to release it.

I just want to add another element when it comes to the human rights issues. You may know that one of the concrete results of President Michel's visit to China was that both sides have agreed to resume the dialogue on human rights. We do not claim that we are perfect on human rights. No country or no side is perfect on human rights. If the European Parliament has concerns, we are ready to talk openly with the EU, with whoever on human rights issues so long as they do not interfere in the internal affairs of China, so long as it does not become a one-sided lecturing. We are ready to talk to the EU through this human rights dialogue. And if they have concerns, they can raise that in the human rights dialogue. Why should they link their concerns on human rights  with a trade agreement? Because if they do that, if that is a position they take, then the human rights will proliferate into all fields. We know that China and the European countries do not see eye to eye on certain human rights issues. That is the fact we have to acknowledge. It's not because we do not respect human rights or we do not safeguard human rights, it’s because we have different culture, different history. We need to respect each other, but those differences on human rights issues should not be proliferated into other fields. If that is the case, there is no hope for any dialogue or cooperation to prosper, because you would have to wait until we see eye to eye with each other on human rights issues before you do business.

As we say in China, when you are in business, let's talk about business. Let's keep politics out of this. So by linking politics with economy, we actually hindering the relationship and hindering economic cooperation, especially at a time when the global economy is going through such a difficult time, we all know. There are visionary leaders in Europe, the leaders and people as well need to understand what is in the long term interest of Europe. You want strategic autonomy. If your economy is not developing, how autonomous can you be strategically, right? That is the basis of everything. Nowadays, the global economy and the European economy are going through a bad time. Are you ready to forsake a huge market like China, because China is not seeing eye to eye on some specific human rights issues?

SCMP: If you may allow me, there are other issues that I want to discuss with relation to the economy and trade which are connected to what you just said. The EU is building a toolkit. The instruments that it says are required in order to deal with China's economic model. These include instruments on foreign subsidies, international procurement, anti-coercion instrument, and direct investment screening. There’s a whole litany of these. How is that viewed in Beijing? They're not directly targeted at China but that's the inference when we speak with the EU officials. And how will Beijing respond to this?

Fu Cong: I have to say that we are actually following the development very closely. We know that some of them will have direct influence or effect on Chinese business here in Europe. We have to say that we are following this with a lot of concern. Some of them, even though they are not directly (at China) or China is not mentioned, but we all know that China will be the first to be affected. We do not believe that they are in line with the free and open market that Europe always claim it to be. And some of the measures are bordering on protectionism or even outright discrimination. Let's look at Huawei as the most prominent example. This is an outright discrimination against a private company. So we are very concerned and some of the toolkits are not in line with WTO principles as well.

SCMP: Which ones? Because I think they've been so careful to construct them within WTO rules.

Fu Cong: I don't want to go to the nitty-gritty of the WTO rules, but that is our impression. We are going to talk about them with the professionals on what are the exact rules that should be more in line with WTO principles. I want to emphasize that this is the reason, frankly speaking, why the Chinese business people here in Europe are giving a not very high rating to the European market as such. In the reports by China Chamber of Commerce to the EU for three consecutive years, their ratings of the business environment of Europe has been deteriorating. So we are quite concerned. Again, we do not want to see our economic relationship being interfered too much by politics. That's the basic line.

SCMP: I was going to suggest that perhaps part of the reason for developing these tools in Brussels’ opinion is that certain Chinese markets are not open to European firms, so it should be reciprocal. European firms can’t compete for procurement markets in certain areas in China, foreign subsidies and so on. So would it be easier to allow European firms the same access in China that Chinese firms often have here? Would that sort of solve those problems?

Fu Cong: Again that comes back to the CAI. If the Europeans are so concerned about market access in China. So why should they not ratify the CAI?

SCMP: That will cover a small portion of it.

Fu Cong: Yes, but we are ready to build on that. That is a very important first step. As I mentioned in my opening remarks about the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. In that report, China openly said we will continue to open up the market further and the opening up will be on a higher level which we call the institutional opening up. What does that mean? We are ready to open up in the formulation of rules and regulations. So that opening up will actually give more say to foreign companies. The direction has been set, and the basic policies are there.

But when it comes to the bilateral agreement and reciprocity, let's have that agreement ratified so that the companies on both sides can enjoy the benefits of that agreement. But unfortunately, because of the political reasons that agreement is hanging in the air. That's why when I met with the European business people, I said that talk to the European Parliament and tell them that this is in your interests as well. Again, this is not the favor given by Europe to China. It’s mutually beneficial. If Europe wants to develop its economy, I would even say it is not very wise at this stage of economic difficulties to hype up the political factors to impede economic cooperation.

SCMP: In the event you attended with the European chambers the other day, I noticed that the gentleman from the Lithuanian chamber was also present. I want to ask you about the situation between China and Lithuania, because in Europe the accusation would be that what you just said about mixing business and politics. This is what China is accused of doing at the WTO with relation to Taiwan representative office (set by Lithuanian government). So are you planning to try and resolve this dispute with Lithuania and what were your message to Lithuanian businesses?

Fu Cong: For us, this dispute between China and Lithuania is a political issue, not an economic issue. We never say it’s an economic issue because that involves One-China policy. When we talk about One-China policy, we say that it should not be “Two Chinas” or “One China, one Taiwan”. You were based in Hong Kong, I’m sure you know the subtleties.

SCMP: Yes.

Fu Cong: The fact that they use Taiwan in the name of that office creates “One China and One Taiwan”. People may say there's nothing more than the name, but names matter, especially when it comes to national sovereignty and territorial integrity, right? And that was a deliberate provocation on the part of Lithuanian instigated by again, by another big power.

SCMP: You think the U.S. is behind all of this?

Fu Cong: I don't want to point too many fingers, but we all know that some forces are behind this. And then they came up with this name against the universal practice. That is not the only office that the island established in foreign countries, but they all use the name “the office of Taipei”. After repeated démarches, they refused to rectify.

SCMP: I guess the trouble has been sort of sorrow point in EU-China relations. Is it really worth it from your point of view?

Fu Cong: It's not worth it. And that's why we say this is not an issue between China and the EU. It is unfortunate that the EU’s relations or EU’s policies had been hijacked by such a small country on certain issue.

SCMP: I guess that is the nature of EU trade policy. There's only one trade policy and one single market.

Fu Cong: So if they really want to see this single trade policy, then they should tell their Lithuanian counterparts to rectify or amend their courses and then the issue can be resolved very easily. Change the name and everything will return to normal.

SCMP: So you say if they change the name, then imports from Lithuania will be allowed into China.

Fu Cong: No, actually we have not prohibited or put any prohibitions or restrictions on trade. If people don't want to buy their products, who do you blame?

SCMP: Chinese buyers don't want to buy from Lithuania?

Fu Cong: That's right. The (Chinese) government didn't say that we are going to impose trade barriers to Lithuania, but the Chinese people are patriotic people. This is not the first time when China's dignity is offended, the Chinese customers take actions to punish those companies. But you can't say this is because the government asks the people to do that. No, that is not the case. On the contrary, sometimes we need to call for caution and restraint.

SCMP: Repeatedly in this conversation, you've sort of intimated that the problems in the Europe-China relations are often the fault of the United States and there's some trouble making going on behind the scenes. And I must say that this is something that I know some people in Brussels get a little bit offended because they feel like it’s removing agency from the EU. Perhaps they have their own issues and they've come to their own conclusions on certain topics.

Fu Cong: No, actually I'm not finger-pointing at anybody. Yes indeed, when we develop our relations with the EU, we develop them independently of any other forces. That's our wish. But we also heard that some countries in Europe are under tremendous pressure from the U.S., from across the Atlantic on certain issues. Huawei is one example. I can give you another very good example on semiconductor. This is public. It's not China saying this, right? The government of the Netherlands said that they were under tremendous pressure from the U.S.. It's not me saying this. It’s all there for people to see. And we all know that the U.S. State Secretary and other high officials don't mince their words when they come to Europe. China is always top on their agenda, right? So it's not me finger pointing. If the European institutions get offended,they should be offended by the U.S. not by me. Right?We need to be fair.

SCMP: Yep. Yep. A lot of public statements would say that on certain issues like ASML. The European Union is seemingly these days coming up with a lot of initiatives to compete and rival China such as the “Belt and Road”, they want to reduce their reliance on China on critical minerals, solar technology and things like these. How do you view this?

Fu Cong: I know that the EU has characterized its relationship with China by three dimensions. One is “partner”, another is “competitor”, and another is “systemic rival”. Nowadays the rivalry part has been given more weight and more light. Frankly speaking, we do not see the relationship in that way. We see them (China-EU relations) more positively. As I mentioned, our President said very clearly,(China and Europe are) two big forces, two big markets and two big civilization. And there is no reason why we should not cooperate. We see Europe more as a “partner”. A certain degree of competition in the economy is good. So we don't mind competition so long as it's fair. But we don't believe that there is much rivalry between us. Even less should we highlight this aspect of our relationship so much, because this will unnecessarily hinder the cooperations we have or may have in all fields. As I said, the two biggest economies have so much in common complementarity. We want to sort of “de-politicize” this whole relationship. Just now you asked me how do I feel after the first week? The biggest impression is that the (China-EU) relation is too much politicized. There are so many things that we can work together. But because of the politics, because of ideology, (our cooperations were effected greatly). We don't think that is good for us.

SCMP: Everything is political and geopolitical these days with war in Europe and everything. You mentioned the pressure from the United States, how realistic is it to “de-politicize” the relationship?

Fu Cong: Again, it’s strategic autonomy. As I said, people need to look further and have a longer vision. Talking about ideology, actually the world is a colorful place, exactly because we have different ideologies, different religions and different cultures. I think Europe has long abandoned this so-called mission of civilizing the whole world. Right? And we should allow differences to exist, and that should not be a hindrance to our common interests, common prosperity and common cause. There are so many global issues we need to deal with. So do you stop working with China because you have political differences with us or ideological differences which are even narrower than political differences?

As a matter of fact, that's why I said these are “apparent differences”. Even about the ideological differences, I do not see that we have so much in difference. We know that Europe wants to spread what they called the universal values: human rights, democracy and freedom. If you read the report of the 20th National Congress of the Party, President Xi mentioned the idea of common values shared by the whole humanity and that includes peace, development, democracy, freedom and host of other things.

SCMP: I guess there are fundamental differences in how Europe uses those things and how China uses those things.

Fu Cong: Exactly. When it comes to the concepts, we share those concepts. Indeed, there might be some differences as to what all these concepts really mean. So that should be the subject for dialogue and it should not be something that prevents us from cooperating with each other. That's why I said that apparently there seems to be unbridgeable differences, and in my view, it's not like that. That's what the dialogue is meant to serve. That's why we say that we do not want to listen to the lecturing. But if it is done on the equal basis, let's discuss what you mean by democracy. Because we are ready to talk about democracy with our European interlocutors, what we call the whole process democracy.

So does democracy only have one form? Even within the western countries, democracy may take different forms. I used to live and work in Switzerland. Their democracy, if you talk about being democratic, is much more democratic than the U.S.. Everything is done through a referendum and plebiscite by participation of the whole people. So that is democracy. But Switzerland does not accuse the U.S. for not being democratic, because theirs is actually indirect election. Democracy may take different forms. Let’s talk about it. If you have human rights concerns. Let's talk about it. We also have human rights concerns vis-a-vis the Europe. For instance, a couple of days ago, Prime Minister of Netherlands apologized publicly for the role they played in slavery.

SCMP: Isn’t it a positive thing, though?

Fu Cong: It is. That means nobody can claim to be perfect in human rights. So if we sit down and talk about this on the fair and equitable basis and in a calm manner, I’m sure things can improve. We are ready to engage, but again, we do not have the unrealistic expectation that we can resolve all our differences. But differences as they may, should we not do anything else because we have these differences? That's a fundamental issue that Europe needs to consider.

SCMP: One more question if I may, I know I've taken too much time already, but thank you very much for being so generous. The Taiwan issue which we touched on is becoming a big topic here in Europe less so than the United States. But it's certainly when I speak with people in the European Commission and EEAS and so on, Taiwan is moving up the ladder in terms of how they view it as an important part of the conversation about China. There's a big push in the European Parliament and from some others for the Commission to begin sculpting a bilateral investment agreement with Taiwan. There are no talks on-going, but the Parliament wants the EU to start talking about having a bilateral investment agreement with Taiwan, which would be official. How would China react to that if it was to come to pass?

Fu Cong: If you look at the commitment that the EU made to us as early as 1975, when China and EEC at that time established diplomatic relations, (EEC promised that) “there will be no agreement between EEC and Taiwan. All the Member States of the Community recognized the government of China and had taken positions with regard to the Taiwan question acceptable to the People’s Republic.” Acceptable to the People's Republic, that’s also very important. So nowadays people say that China should not interfere with our One-China Policy as if they had the monopoly of interpretation. That is not true. He (then vice-president of EEC Sir Christopher Soames) says (all the EEC members) has taken position with regard to Taiwan question acceptable to China. It has to be acceptable to China because that involves China's fundamental interest. Then he goes on to say “according to these positions, the Community does not entertain any official relations with Taiwan or have any agreements with it. ”

SCMP: I guess it would narrow the scope of official EU-China cooperation if the EU is also making agreements with Taiwan?

Fu Cong: We have to wait and see how this situation evolves, so we haven't made any public statement yet. But anything that the EU does should be in accordance with the commitments that they have made. That's why we say that One-China policy is the political foundation of all our external relations. We cannot sustain our relationship with any country that violates this fundamental principle. People need to understand this. And again, we know that some people in the Parliament, their job is to antagonize China, but we count on the visionary leaders of the EU. Is it in the interest of the EU and is it in the interest of the world? People are talking about the crisis around Taiwan, we don’t want to see another crisis emerging from this side. We have seen Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan.

SCMP: You have European Parliamentarians in Taipei today, but you have less of a vociferous response to that. Is that less serious?

Fu Cong: No, it is a very serious matter. When I met with the European interlocutors, I have mentioned that we are against this because it undermines One-China policy. I also emphasized the point that when they talk about (One-China policy), they always say that we stick to the One-China policy, and at the same time they are doing things that undermine that basic policy. I said that this will constitute what we call the hollowing out of this policy, which we do not accept. This is going to be a slippery slope. How far can you push the envelope?

SCMP: That's the ambition of these visitors (to Taiwan) to push the envelope?

Fu Cong: Of course. All those so-called proposals or initiatives. In my meetings with European interlocutors, they say that China is a big power now, you should act like a big power. I said yes, we should act like a big power, but you first need to treat us like a big power. Do you think China as a big power would sit there and see its interest being trampled upon? People need to realize the seriousness of this matter. They’re playing with fire. If there is one issue that China cannot tolerate, that is Taiwan issue. China has zero tolerance when it comes to Taiwan issue. Anything that infringes upon One-China policy will certainly be met with strong countermeasures. That's a message China has been sending out. We hope people can take serious heed of this message and don't play with fire.

SCMP: You’re very serious. Thank you very much for being so gracious with your time and so full so soon with your comments. It’s very interesting for me to get your thoughts. Thank you very much for sharing.

Fu Cong: It's a pleasure.

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