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Transcript of Ambassador Fu Cong’s Interview with the New Statesman
2023-05-28 11:00

On May 24, 2023, Ambassador Fu Cong, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, had an exclusive interview with Bruno Maçães, Foreign Affairs Correspondent of the New Statesman. The transcript of the interview is as follows:

New Statesman: Ambassador Fu, thank you for finding a time. I want to start with Ukraine, and we’ll talk about other things too. In the non-paper that High Representative (of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy) Borrell gave to the Ministers in the Gymnich, it says, “The relationship between China and the European Union will be critically affected if China does not push Russia to withdraw from Ukraine.” It’s a very strong statement. I want to hear your response and also to ask you if China will push Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. It seems to be the only way to preserve relations with the European Union.

Fu Cong: First, let me say that we understand the importance that the EU attaches to the Ukrainian crisis. But frankly speaking, I do not find it sensible to actually link China’s position on the Ukrainian crisis with the bilateral relationship between China and the EU because I don’t think that is fair to China and sensible for the EU.

If they are talking about China playing a positive role in facilitating peace, indeed, China is doing that. Chinese President Xi Jinping made a phone call with President Putin on the second day of the start of the conflict, urging for peace. Then, actually, in the past year, China has been very active in trying to talk to both sides, Russia and Ukraine, and has urged both sides to put an immediate stop to the fighting and to start peaceful negotiation. I’m sure you’re aware that President Xi personally made a phone call with President Zelenskyy. Also, you’re aware of the 12-point Position Paper that China has tabled. As a matter of fact, as we speak, a Chinese special envoy is traveling in Europe and soliciting the views of the European capitals to try to find peace for the two sides.

So China is doing what it can to facilitate a peaceful settlement of this critical issue. But it is not realistic to expect China to take the exact position or 100% identical position as the Europeans. Because China is not in Europe, China’s interests are different from Europe’s, and China maintains good relations with both sides. So there are reasons why China takes the position that it takes.

Another aspect I want to emphasize is that the China-EU relationship is multifaceted. So we should not allow the Ukrainian crisis to dominate this broad-ranging relationship. That will not be in the interest of either side. That is a short answer to what you have asked.

New Statesman: There is this opinion in Europe that China is on Russia’s side. And I’ll quote from the paper again, Mr. Borrell’s paper, another very strong sentence, “The 12-point proposal that China has put forward confirms its firm pro-Russian stance.”

Fu Cong: Frankly speaking, I don’t agree with that assessment. China is very clear that China stands to support the territorial integrity of all countries. Of course, if we want to realistically seek endurable peace of any region, I would say, the legitimate security concerns of all sides need to be respected. I know that the European side has some misgivings about that, but frankly speaking, I don’t see how you can have durable peace if the legitimate security concerns of all sides are not taken fully into consideration.

So you can’t say that China is on the side of Russia on this issue. China is trying to facilitate peace. As I said, China maintains good relations with both Ukraine and Russia. We want to be helpful in putting a stop to the fighting. As a matter of fact, as we speak, soldiers are being killed in Bakhmut in thousands, or tens of thousands. Actually, I often quote this report, which said that the average surviving time of a Ukrainian soldier on the battlefield is four hours. That is, four hours after a soldier is committed to the battlefield, he gets killed. I don’t think it is anything better for the Russian side. For what purpose? Do we need to continue this senseless killing? As a matter of fact, you know, as much as I do, that both sides are saying that Bakhmut does not have any strategic value. If it does not have strategic value, why do you need to spend the lives of so many soldiers? For what purpose? I really don’t understand. This, to me, is senseless killing. That’s why more and more people are comparing this conflict to the First World War, the trench warfare. In order to gain a few inches of territory, you get hundreds and thousands of soldiers killed.

So that’s why China said we need to stop the fighting now. Unfortunately, that is not the position that some European countries take. They called for peace, but then they said when the conditions were ripe. The other day I confronted a senior official from NATO. I said you said you called for peace, and at the same time, you said when the conditions are ripe. Tell me, is now the right time with the right conditions to call a stop to the fighting? He could not answer. Our position is very clear. We need to put an immediate stop to the fighting in order to end the senseless killing. Indeed, we realize there are complicated issues that need to be resolved, but they can only be resolved through negotiation. They cannot be resolved through continued fighting. That is the theme that the Chinese special envoy has been preaching to the European capitals. I hope he can have a good hearing.

New Statesman: Help me understand why China has not condemned the Russian invasion and called for a withdrawal. I’m puzzled because the basic core of China’s thinking and values on foreign affairs are the five principles of peaceful coexistence. They are in the preface of the Chinese Constitution. They are mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality, mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence. Russia violated all of them on February 24 (2022). If Russia violates the most sacred principles affirmed by China about international affairs, why hasn’t China condemned Russia?

Fu Cong: Well, we have said that we support every country’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity. I think that is sufficient, and everybody takes that message, including Russia. So have no doubt that China is condoning any side on this issue.

New Statesman: But it’s not condemning Russia.

Fu Cong: So we have our own diplomatic style. And I think at this stage, actually, a simple condemnation does not solve the problem. It may reduce your space for diplomacy. If all countries take the side of one country, then who is going to come out as a mediator for peace? Right? But it doesn’t mean that we are condoning any action specifically in this conflict.

New Statesman: But you agreed that Russia started the war, not Ukraine.

Fu Cong: That’s for the historians to decide.

New Statesman: Let me ask you about the envoy (Chinese Special Representative for Eurasian Affairs Li Hui). We don’t know much about what happened, particularly in Kyiv. Anything you can tell me and the readers?

Fu Cong: Yes. Actually, he met the (Ukrainian) Foreign Minister and President Zelenskyy. He explained our views that are well known, and also the Ukrainian side explained theirs. I think they had a good discussion. Both sides seemed to be happy. As to the specific details, I’m not at liberty to divulge at this moment.

New Statesman: Very good. Let me turn to this concept affirmed by President von der Leyen of “de-risking” and the distinction between “de-risking” and “decoupling”. I have been told by my sources that when she talked to President/General Secretary Xi Jinping, he was not happy with the distinction because he doesn’t believe it’s a real distinction. I don’t know if this is true, but I want to ask you, do you believe it’s a real distinction? And do you think it’s a useful distinction?

Fu Cong: First, let me say that I’m glad that the European leaders, including the United States, have realized that decoupling from China is neither realistic nor desirable. That is a good thing. Secondly, with respect to “de-risking”, let me say that this is a very vague term and an evolving concept. So actually, the European leaders need to explain to us, to the public, what exactly “de-risking” entails. But for us, let me make it clear that if “de-risking” means ridding China of the global industrial and supply chains, especially in key areas, and when it involves key technology, we are firmly opposed to that.

As a matter of fact, in our view, the basis for the so-called “de-risking” policy is the so-called “dependency”. Right? On that, first, of course, we appreciate every country’s desire to maintain a resilient supply chain. There is nothing wrong about that. But at the same time, we need to realize that we should not exaggerate the so-called “dependency”. In the relationship between China and the EU, as a matter of fact, according to the EU’s own report, there is less than 1% of imports from China that actually can be regarded as Europe having a heavy dependency on China, less than 1%. So we need to put this problem into proper perspective. 

Another aspect people need to bear in mind is that when it comes to dependency, it is mutual dependency between China and Europe. This is a natural result of globalization, right? I would say that this is a welcome result of globalization. China is dependent on Europe for many other things. For instance, the most prominent example is the semiconductor and especially the chip-making equipment. So we should not exaggerate the dependency. If the EU side has concerns about dependency on China for certain things, the best way is to really talk to each other.

Now we have come up with this proposal to the EU. In our view, dependency is not dangerous. What is dangerous is to weaponize the dependency. If the EU has the political will to alleviate their concerns, China is ready to talk to them and come to some sort of agreement. We should not weaponize the dependencies that one side may have on the other.

New Statesman: Has China ever weaponized? 

Fu Cong: No, China has not. So that’s why we say there is no reason. But actually, if we see what’s happening in the world, we see the US, sometimes supported by European companies and governments, weaponizing China’s dependency. Again, coming back to the semiconductor, they are banning the export of advanced semiconductors to China. We all know nowadays the semiconductor is almost the basis of almost everything, right? Without that, you cannot have a modern industry. So this is very sad. We hope that we can resolve each other’s concerns through amicable consultation and dialogue.

New Statesman: Let me turn to another very sensitive topic. The EU is discussing the 11th package of sanctions (on Russia), which could have been approved on Monday. I understand it’s a little bit late, but it could be very soon, as early as next week. And in the documents that I have seen, there are names of eight Chinese companies, although I’m not entirely sure if there are Chinese companies or just registered in China or Hong Kong. I’m sure you’re working on this issue, perhaps trying to prevent this from happening. If it happens, what will be China’s reaction to that, the first time the EU uses these sanctions against Chinese companies?

Fu Cong: First, let me say when it comes to Chinese exports to Russia, China has not provided any military equipment to Russia, and China has exercised extreme caution when it comes to dual-use items. At the same time, China maintains normal economic relations and cooperation with Russia. So these normal economic cooperation and activities should not be interfered with, and it should not be the reason for any coercive measures from any side, either from the US or from the European side. The second point I want to say is that we are against unilateral sanctions without the basis of international law or the authorization of (UN) Security Council resolutions. In particular, we are firmly against the extraterritorial jurisdiction of all these measures. These are our basic positions.

When it comes to these companies, let me be very clear: if the European side imposes sanctions on Chinese companies without providing us with any solid evidence to show that these companies are engaged with activities that may circumvent or that have circumvented the EU sanctions on Russia, then we certainly will retaliate. Because, as a government, we have the obligation and duty to safeguard the legitimate interests of our companies. But let me also emphasize that we want to resolve this issue in a cooperative way. I understand this 11th round of sanctions is aimed mainly at preventing circumvention. If the EU side has evidence that Chinese companies are engaged in such activities, please show us the evidence.

And also, I have a question to ask. Now we know that they want to prevent the circumvention, but when the European companies export those items, was there a requirement in the contract that says that you should not re-transfer these items to Russia or to any other country? Because actually, in our case, if you want to prevent a re-transfer of certain items, we require what we call End-User Certificates (EUCs). So when the transaction was made, was there such a clause? Was there such a requirement? You cannot use a new law to penalize an entity for their actions that happened before this new law entered into force. This is the basic principle of the rule of law, right? So that’s why we say that we need to talk about this. But unfortunately, we have approached the EU side, and we have not been given any clear explanations. One thing they did tell us was that they did not have solid evidence that those companies had re-exported the items they had imported from the EU companies to Russia.

New Statesman: They said they did not?

Fu Cong: They did not. They said that they had noticed a sharp increase in the import of certain items. But I said that there may be legitimate reasons, right? And that’s why I said if you have concerns and if you have evidence, show that to me. Maybe we have a legitimate explanation for that, and we can investigate for you. But unfortunately, the EU side has not picked up or responded to our gesture to resolve this in a cooperative manner. Actually, let me also emphasize that what the EU is saying is that they will put the Chinese entities on the list, which is basically a control list. So in the future, these companies should be companies of concern, and certain items should not be exported to them. They say that this is not an extraterritorial application of their sanctions. But this is exactly the extraterritorial application of sanctions. This is exactly what the US has been doing when they sanction foreign companies: they put foreign companies on what they call the entity list. I’m very sad to see that the EU is copying what the US has been doing in the past years. I would even add that it is in violation of the EU’s own position against the extraterritorial application of national sanctions. They are doing exactly the same as the US in this case. So we have great concern.

And let me be clear, if despite all of our efforts to resolve this in a cooperative manner, which actually I still believe there is time, we still have a few days, then there will be strong responses. Frankly speaking, again, it will not be good for either side, and we do not want to see this happen. That’s why I have been urging my European interlocutors that they should talk to us. If they have evidence, show us the evidence. Let’s see whether we can resolve this in a cooperative manner.

New Statesman: Just to clarify quickly, China would be willing to work with the EU to address the question of circumvention if the EU could provide evidence. You could perhaps even punish the companies if you agree with the evidence.

Fu Cong: I don’t know whether “punish” is the right word. As I said, the new law cannot be used to penalize past activities. Right?

New Statesman: You would be able to address the issue in China with those companies if the EU shows the evidence.

Fu Cong: Yes, that’s the essence of a cooperative way of resolving concerns. But again, they need to give us the evidence. They need to show us that these companies are re-transferring the dual-use items they have imported from Europe.

New Statesman: Very good. Hopefully, the interview can help with this issue.

Fu Cong: Indeed, I hope you can publish this in time. Because, as you said, they are making the decision, and they are not actually listening to our views.

New Statesman: Let me turn to the CAI, to the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. Again, I’m going to quote what I hear in this city. People have told me that China would be willing to remove the sanctions against European Parliamentarians if the EU promises to revive CAI and sign it. Is this true? Would China be willing to remove the sanctions against the EU Parliamentarians in exchange for a final agreement on CAI?

Fu Cong: First, let me say that CAI is an important bilateral agreement. Both sides have spent huge efforts and shown great flexibilities in order to achieve that. At this time when the world is recovering from the pandemic and the global economy is not faring very well, such an agreement will help the economies of both sides, and it will go a long way toward resolving many of the concerns that the EU or European companies have vis-a-vis the Chinese market. But unfortunately, this issue has been politicized.

China has been making several proposals, trying to unlock this deadlock. We do hope that the EU side can respond in a similar manner. As I said, China is willing to accommodate any proposal that is based on mutual respect and reciprocity. If the EU side is willing to do that, we’ll be happy to see it through. If they think there are other better ways, they are also welcome. The bottom line is that the EU side should not only raise conditions. They should put forward proposals for solutions. So they can’t say that China should do this and that, and we’ll see what we can do. That’s not going to fly. But if they come up with a practical solution that can break the impasse, China is willing to listen.

New Statesman: Whom do you blame for the failure of CAI two or three years ago? Do you blame the US? Do you blame the EU?

Fu Cong: I know that there are a number of anti-China politicians who do not want to see this important agreement go through in Europe and also in the United States as well. We know that the US has always been a very important external factor in China-EU relations. We know that. This has been shown in the discussions and in public statements by the EU or by the European leaders. I would say that some of the European countries would not have taken the positions they have taken if they had not been pressured or influenced by the United States. The cases in point again are the semiconductor and also the Huawei. So we do believe that the EU needs to really take its fate into its own hands and really practice this strategic autonomy as they always speak about.

New Statesman: But don’t you think it’s counterproductive for China to ask Europe to be more autonomous? Probably the reaction from Europe will be to do the opposite because it sounds like pressure from China.

Fu Cong: No. How can you say that we are putting pressure if we ask you to be independent? That does not stand to logic, right? Over the years, in past decades, China may be the only big power that came out in clear terms, in clear support for the integration of Europe. The only big power, you can check the record. We do see Europe as an important force on the global stage, both politically and economically. And Europe has such a long history and such a splendid civilization. There is no reason Europe should become “vassals” to any other country. Of course, they will not become “vassals” to China. We don’t have that ambition.

New Statesman: Very good. I think maybe the final question will be, do you think the EU is divided on China, that there are very different opinions about how relations with China should be like? And how do you explain those divisions?

Fu Cong: Indeed, actually, like many people, we are following the debate among the EU member states on their policy towards China very closely. I have to say that, like you, I have heard different voices. There is no denying that. In my view, some politicians look at China from a strategic and realistic point of view, which we welcome. Unfortunately, there are also others whose thinking is more tainted by ideology.

Let me say this. We do not deny that there are differences between us in terms of ideology and specific issues related to human rights. But our view is that our common interests far outweigh our differences. So we should not allow our differences to define our relationship. I hope that could be an approach taken by all European countries. That is the approach that we take because we believe that it can be helpful to the development of our relations. And in Bible, you say: “Give it back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Right? Why do we need to allow our differences in certain areas to permeate into all other areas? The other day, I heard a very wise European politician who said that we should compartmentalize the issues. There are many things on which China and the EU share common positions and common responsibilities and we can cooperate. There are issues that we have differences. But we need to insulate those areas from the differences. So we should not allow our differences in terms of ideology and in terms of human rights to permeate into other fields. That is our approach.

Unfortunately, nowadays, there is this narrative about so-called “democracy versus autocracy”. I think this narrative is both misleading and, I would say, even dangerous. Because if you divide the world into so-called democracies and autocracies, first, it’s not correct.

New Statesman: Is China a democracy or an autocracy?

Fu Cong: We see ourselves as a democracy. So that’s why we say this is a misleading narrative. Who gives a country the right to define whether other countries are democracies or autocracies? It’s dangerous in the sense that if you divide the world into two different ideologies, into two different blocs, you would be, in effect, taking the world back to the old Cold War days. Is that the world we want to see? That’s why I have been saying to the Europeans that how China and Europe, the EU in particular, handle our relations will, to a very large extent, determine how the world will look like tomorrow. So people need to have this sense of history, I would say. It’s very sad that some European leaders said that “I don’t care about history because I was not born then”. I think that is very sad. We need to have this sense of history and we need to have this sense of responsibility to the world and to our future generations, to our children, and to our children’s children, because we do not want to see the world going back to the Cold War.

New Statesman: A very final question, but it’s a very short and easy one.

Fu Cong: There is never an easy question.

New Statesman: Is Crimea a part of Ukraine?

Fu Cong: I can give you a very short and easy answer to that. China stands for the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine, and for that matter, including Russia. All countries. On the issue of Crimea, we do hope that the two sides can resolve this issue through political and peaceful negotiations.

New Statesman: Thank you very much, Ambassador.

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