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Transcript of Ambassador Fu Cong’s Interview with CGTN
2023-04-04 12:20

On March 31, 2023, Ambassador Fu Cong, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, took an exclusive interview with "The Point with LIU Xin," one of the main current affairs programs on CGTN. The transcript of the interview is as follows:

CGTN: “Our relationship with China is one of the most intricate and important anywhere in the world,” so says European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen ahead of her visit to China with French President Emmanuel Macron. In the speech, she says the EU should seek to “de-risk” rather than “de-couple” from China. Meanwhile, the Spanish Prime Minister has just wrapped up a visit to China too. So what impetus will these visits inject in China's relations with European countries? And how does China view these ties? I'm pleased to be joined from Brussels, Belgium, by Ambassador Fu Cong, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU. Ambassador Fu, thank you very much for joining us.

Fu Cong: Thank you for having me.

CGTN: It’s always a pleasure. On Thursday, President Ursula von der Leyen said it is neither viable nor in Europe’s interest to “de-couple” from China. And Europe should rather “de-risk” its relationship with China. How do you react to such statements?

Fu Cong: First, thank you, Liu Xin, for having me. On the important speech made by President von der Leyen yesterday, I would like to say that I was a little bit disappointed by that statement. I want to make three points:

The first one is that the speech contained a lot of misrepresentation and misinterpretation of Chinese policies and positions. I would say that whoever wrote that speech for President von der Leyen does not really understand China or deliberately distorted Chinese positions.

My second impression is that this speech actually reflects a deep-seated ambivalence on the part of President von der Leyen in her approach to China. On the one side, she realizes that it is important for Europe and it is in the interest of Europe to engage with China. At the same time, she is also fearful of criticism, especially from the hardliners in Europe and maybe even from the United States. Actually, that made the speech quite lacking in terms of coherence. If you read the speech, you have the impression as if two people are quarreling with each other. So there is no coherence in that speech. That was the second impression I had.

The third point I want to make is that we do hope that in her visit to China and in her dialogue with Chinese leaders, she would be able to understand China better and learn more about China, so as to have a better understanding of Chinese positions and policies.

Talking about de-risking versus de-coupling, of course, de-risking is somewhat better than de-coupling. Because this has been a position taken by the United States, and the US has been pushing Europe to de-couple from China. That has met a lot of resistance from this part of the Atlantic. But I have to say that in terms of de-risking, the risks do not come from China. In our view, the biggest risk for a normal trade relationship between China and Europe is the politicization and weaponization of trade issues for geopolitical purposes or even ideological purposes. If we really want to de-risk the economic relationship between China and Europe, I think it is important that we treat each other on an equal basis and try to achieve a win-win outcome and reduce the possible political interference in our economic relationship. 

CGTN: For those who haven’t read the speech, who haven’t listened to the speech in detail, Ambassador Fu, would you remind us of one example of what you just mentioned? For instance, the kind of misrepresentations that she expressed and the people who wrote this, either intentionally or unintentionally. Can you give people one example to illustrate your point better?

Fu Cong: Actually, there are many examples that are contained in that speech. I don’t have this speech with me, so I cannot pinpoint it. For instance, it talks about China moving away from the opening up policy, and that is definitely a false accusation. We have heard from speeches and statements of our top leadership, both from President Xi and Premier Li. One consistent message deriving from both the 20th CPC Party Congress and the “Two Sessions” is very clear, loud and clear, which is China is going to continue with the reform and opening up policy. Actually, we are even talking about institutional opening up and opening up at higher standards. So China is not moving away from opening up. That is a very typical example of the misrepresentation of China’s policy.

And also, she talks about China wanting to dominate the global supply chains. That is totally a distortion of our position. We do not seek that. What we seek is to continue with the globalization of the economy so that all countries can benefit from global interaction. There are many other issues, many other examples. In order to save time, I will not go too deep into the statement. But there are examples that you can see. I'm sure people who understand China will see that the interpretation in that speech is somewhat distorted.

CGTN: Still, we are seeing European leaders visiting China. I mean if you count the last few months of last year, we are actually seeing quite a number of important European leaders visiting China. Why do you think they are coming to China relatively intensively? And what do you think they’re looking for? And what can China offer them in return?

Fu Cong: First, let me say that I’m very glad that European leaders are going to China in large numbers. First and foremost, I think this is a recognition of China’s great power status. They realize that China is wielding a great influence in many parts of the world, and there are many global issues that cannot be resolved without China’s participation. Let me also say that the successful mediation by China between Saudi Arabia and Iran has created a shock wave in this part of the world. This is first a recognition of China’s position. 

Secondly, it also reflects the desire of European countries to profit from the Chinese market. The Chinese economy is staging a robust rebound, and that has been recognized by all. According to the IMF forecast, for this year’s GDP growth, China can reach 5.2 %, even higher than what we ourselves have predicted. This actually would mean a lot of economic opportunities for many countries, including European countries. I’m sure the European leaders are coming to find more opportunities for their companies, for their business community. 

The third reason, I think, is that they are trying to put some distance between China and Russia. They are quite concerned about China being closer to Russia. So I think, basically, these are the underlying reasons why these European leaders are visiting China in great numbers.

CGTN: Following up on what you just mentioned, the relationship between China and Russia, is there ground for concern for European countries? I mean, Chinese President Xi Jinping just paid a very high-profile state visit to Russia. How was this viewed in Europe? And some people are saying this is a milestone marking China and Russia coming together to be an anti-west bulwark. Is that what the visit was all about?

Fu Cong: I don't think that is the correct interpretation of President Xi's visit to Moscow. As we have said, this trip was a trip for peace. It was a trip for friendship and cooperation. I think what is most important is that during the visit, President Xi advocated peace and that advocacy has been actively and positively responded to by the Russian side. In the joint statement issued by the two sides, the two sides reiterated the importance of abiding by international law. Russia has expressly said that it is open to peaceful negotiations, and Russia welcomes China's positive role in facilitating peace negotiations. So this is a message, and this is how that visit should be seen by the outside world. 

In addition to that, let me also emphasize that China and Russia are the biggest neighbors, and our relationship is multifaceted. It is not dominated by one single issue. So it is only natural that the leaders of two great neighbors visit each other on a regular basis. So there is nothing extraordinary. 

But I have to admit that some European politicians see this relationship purely from the prism of the Ukrainian crisis. That’s why, on the one hand, they asked China to play a bigger role in facilitating peace, and on the other hand, they do have concerns that China may somehow support Russia in its war efforts in a more substantive way. But we are very clear that our position on the Ukrainian crisis is that all territorial integrity needs to be respected, all international law needs to be respected, as well as the legitimate security concerns of all countries. 

We are also trying our best to facilitate peace, and all these points are contained in our 12-point peace plan issued not long ago, shortly before President Xi’s visit. So I think the European side needs to see China’s role in a more objective light. I think that is very important.

CGTN: President von der Leyen said in her Thursday speech that how China continues to interact with Putin’s war will be a determining factor for EU-China relations going forward. How do you perceive this statement? Does it give you hope that they are seeing this relationship correctly? Or do you feel there are points that need to be clarified here?

Fu Cong: As I said, our position is very clear: what is most urgent is to stop the fighting to save lives. I often refer to a report which says that the average surviving time for a Ukrainian soldier on the battlefield is only four hours. That is four hours on average. So four hours after the soldier committed to the battlefield, he gets killed. 

And also, this fighting is becoming more and more senseless. What we need is to stop this senseless fighting. At the same time, we need to seek a long-term solution to the situation. So this situation is quite complicated. So there is no simple solution. But the only way we can find any solution is through negotiation. So that’s why China’s position boils down to urging peace and promoting negotiation.

Again, this position is not one hundred percent shared by the European side. But at the same time, they say that there is one common denominator between the China and European positions, which is peace. Indeed, they also want peace, but the way to peace is somewhat different as they see this. So I think there are many things that the two leaders or the leaders of the two sides, and also the diplomats on various levels, can talk about. 

At the same time, I must also emphasize, just like our relationship with Russia, our relationship with the EU is also multifaceted. So it should not be dominated by this single issue. That’s the message I’ve been sending out since I come here. We don’t need to see eye to eye one hundred percent on this issue before we conduct cooperation on other fronts. 

As a matter of fact, if you ask the majority of the countries in the world, the majority view is behind the Chinese view, I would say, right? For instance, countries like India, South Africa, Brazil and other major countries, they are all calling for the immediate cessation of hostilities. Let me also add, actually, there are European politicians. This morning I saw a video clip that actually showed that in the Austrian parliament, many people walked out calling for peace. I don’t want to go too deep into that episode, but the message I want to say is that even in Europe, the call for peace is on the rise, not only among the politicians but also among the ordinary people. I think that is an important message that people need to bear in mind.

CGTN: Very briefly, I won’t go much further on this subject, but under what circumstances will China consider acting as a facilitator or broker or mediator of peace?

Fu Cong: China has been talking to all sides, including the European side, actually, and we also hope that Europe plays its role in facilitating peace, let me put it this way. We’re also ready to join hands with European countries to promote peace. But all sides need to be ready for peace before any negotiation can take place.

CGTN: I see. Let’s talk about what you said in our interview in January. You said one of your primary goals, aside from lifting the atmosphere of bilateral ties, you said the other important thing you wanted to do is to identify and possibly harvest some low-hanging fruits in bilateral relations, especially in practical areas, in order to help people see the tangible results of China-EU cooperation. So a couple of months later, what do you have to report to our audiences about any possible progress you have made in this regard?

Fu Cong: In the past three or a little more than three months, I've been reaching out quite a lot and talking to different people. I have to say that I'm very encouraged by the wealth of enthusiasm and warmth towards China by the European people. I’ve talked to the business community, and they are all enthusiastic about going back to China and continuing their business in China. And also I’ve talked to politicians and member states of the EU. I’m also encouraged by the political support of having a good relationship between China and the EU is enjoyed among the politicians and also the governments. I do feel quite encouraged and I do hope that with the visit from the leaders of European countries, the political atmosphere will continue to improve. With respect to the tangible results, we are also exploring very actively with our interlocutors in the EU institutions and member states. I’m sure we’ll have some positive results to report when the time comes.

CGTN: What is the work being done at this moment about the thawing of the comprehensive investment agreement between the two sides or CAI? Is there any progress on that side? I understand you talk about both sides being open to ways to make this agreement back to life again. What is the work being done right now?

Fu Cong: We are exploring different avenues very actively. And again, on this issue, I think the first thing we have achieved is to warm up this issue again, which used to be “frozen” for quite some time. Now this is becoming a live issue. So, more people are showing interest in resuscitating this very important agreement, and work is going on. 

So I sincerely hope that the politicians and also especially the leaders of the member states, and also the EU institutions, can really muster enough courage and also the political strength, I would say, to push forward this issue, so that this mutually beneficial agreement can play its due role in invigorating our economy, because this, again, is an important agreement. Under the current circumstances, it has become more and more important.

CGTN: What is the biggest difference right now between the two sides?

Fu Cong: The biggest obstacle is that some politicians are actually politicizing this issue. They are putting a lot of pressure, trying to prevent any compromise from being achieved. That is the biggest obstacle because everybody recognizes the economic value of this agreement. It’s only those politicians who are not in favor of a robust relationship between China and the EU are trying to undermine this momentum for the resuscitation of this agreement. And also, of course, there are factors from a third party. You know which country I’m talking about. So it is quite complicated. It’s not as easy as we hope it could be, but we will never give up our efforts.

CGTN: In terms of others areas of your work, I’m sure facilitating business or trade, people-to-people, and cultural communication. Are there other progress or other activities that are being held? Now that with the relaxation of COVID restrictions, are we going to see a warming up of these kinds of exchanges between the two sides?

Fu Cong: Yes. Actually, indeed. For the past three months, I have received quite a number of high-level delegations from China. And also, a great number of delegations are going to China as well from the EU side. A governmental dialogue has basically resumed, and it can only intensify because we are also preparing for other dialogues to resume. 

In terms of the people-to-people, indeed, I have received several delegations consisting of students from Tsinghua University and from other universities. There are more student groups coming. They are actually having very interesting interactions with their counterparts in Europe. The tourists are coming back, and the visa policy has returned to normal on our part. I’m sure there will be more tourists going to China, And also, of course, Europe is very attractive and one of the biggest destinations for Chinese travelers. So I’m sure as the weather warms up, the atmosphere will also warm up.

CGTN: So you still have the same kind of passion, curiosity, and excitement as you took up this post three months ago?

Fu Cong: Yes, indeed. The other day, I told my colleague that I’m learning new things on a daily basis. I do learn quite a lot. There is a variety of issues. Actually, the biggest impression since I arrived here is the depth and also width of our bilateral relationship. So it’s across all sectors. There is so much to learn for me, and this gives me both the interest and also enthusiasm to really work for the enhancement of our relationship. 

So I sincerely hope that my enthusiasm could be reciprocated by my counterparts, both in China, I’m talking about the EU Ambassador there,  I’m sure he is also working very actively, and also by my colleagues in the EU institutions. We need joint efforts to really raise our bilateral relationship to a new height. As I always say, the way we manage our relations will, to a very large extent, determine the future of the world. I think it is that important.

So China and Europe, being two centers of great power and also being two of the greatest economies, there are many things that we can do together for our mutual benefit and also for the benefit of the world.

CGTN: And the communication channel is open for you?

Fu Cong: So far, yes.

CGTN: That’s good to know. Well, all the very best luck. We share your sincere hope to have this relationship stabilized and well-managed. All the very best, Ambassador Fu Cong, head of the Chinese mission to the EU, joining us from Brussels, Belgium. 

Fu Cong: Thank you.

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