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Ambassador Zhang Ming Takes a Joint Interview with Portuguese Media

On 29 January 2021, Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, took an online interview with Portuguese media including Público, RTP TV, Euronews, Lusa, Radio Antena 1, and TSF-Rádio Notícias. The following is the transcript:

Ambassador Zhang Ming’s opening remarks:

It is a great pleasure to speak to journalists from Portuguese media. Before taking your questions, please allow me to say a few words on China-EU relations.

No doubt, China-EU relations are of crucial importance. 2020 was not an ordinary year. With great difficulties in the international environment and the widespread of COVID-19, all countries and individuals are severely affected, coming under huge pressure and challenges. China-EU relations are no exception. Yet looking back, we are proud to find that 2020 saw a strong growth of China-EU relations. High-level exchanges were more frequent than ever. President Xi Jinping had three video meetings with EU leaders and had nearly 30 phone calls or video meetings with European leaders including President de Sousa. Last Wednesday, President Xi Jinping sent a congratulatory message to President de Sousa on his reelection. China and the EU held the 22nd annual summit and launched new high-level dialogues in green and digital fields. Next Monday, Vice Premier Han Zheng and EVP Frans Timmermans will co-chair the first high-level dialogue on environment and climate change. The two sides formally signed the Geographical Indications Agreement. Yesterday, China notified the European Commission of its completion of internal procedures on the GI agreement, which is expected to enter into force on March 1. The two sides concluded the investment agreement negotiations as scheduled. We joined forces in upholding multilateralism, fighting the COVID-19, promoting economic recovery, and addressing global challenges.

A quote by Charles Dickens seems to fit in the context: "It was the best of times; it was the worst of times". China-EU relations are advancing against all odds. This reflects what we Chinese believe, that is, from a crisis opportunities arise. To turn a crisis into opportunities, three things are crucial. First, China and the EU have shared interests and need each other as partners. Second, China and the EU are well aware of their shared responsibilities in safeguarding world peace and prosperity, promoting healthy globalization, upholding multilateralism, and improving global governance. Third, China and the EU have a shared commitment to cooperation and dialogue. We commit to promoting cooperation, resolving or managing differences through dialogue rather than confrontation. We reject any destructive attempt to poison international relations or to preach for the so-called new Cold War.

This year, China and the EU have a rich agenda. Challenges won’t fall short, but opportunities feature even more prominently. The two sides will make sustained efforts to promote high-level exchanges, push for the follow-up procedures of the investment agreement, coordinate COVID-19 response on both health and economic fronts, step up green and digital cooperation, and strengthen multilateral governance, in order to keep the good momentum of their relations. This serves the interests of China and the EU and contributes to global stability and prosperity.

Público: Thank you very much. I have three questions if I may. One is regarding this year's agenda. It has to do with the investment agreement. I was wondering if you have any expectations on the ratification of such an agreement? Do you think that this is something that the Portuguese presidency will be able to accomplish? Or do you expect that this will be a longer process? Somewhat related to that is I would like to have your comment on the European discussion about strategic autonomy. Do you think that the concept might push Europe towards a more protectionist stance with regard to global competition in trade? The final one is about the climate change and climate neutrality commitments that China also announced following the European one. So as I understand, China has now committed to climate neutrality in 2060. Can you confirm and what are going to be in those negotiations with Executive Vice-President Frans Timmermans? Thank you.

Zhang Ming: On December 30 last year, Chinese and EU leaders jointly announced the conclusion of the negotiations of the investment agreement. The negotiation had lasted for about 7 years. I have noticed that this agreement has drawn a lot of attention not only from China and the EU but also from other parts of the world. There's a good reason for such a high-level attention given to this agreement. After all, it is of great significance.

This agreement is significant in three aspects. First and foremost, it will give a strong boost to China-EU cooperation. Secondly, it contributes to global economic recovery and the healthy development of economic globalization. Thirdly, it contributes to China's reform and opening-up.

Upon ratification and entry into force of this agreement, as President Xi Jinping said to EU leaders, it will widen market access, improve business environment, strengthen institutional safeguards and create a brighter future for cooperation for both Chinese and EU investors.

From January 1 of this year,Portugal took over the EU rotating presidency. I believe during its presidency, there will be some steps forward in terms of ratification of this investment agreement. Now we have already concluded the negotiation of the investment agreement and we have the initial text in front of us. We are going to go through the legal scrubbing and translation of the text. Then, the two sides are expected to sign the agreement after receiving the relevant mandate. After that, the agreement will be submitted for ratification.

On strategic autonomy, I noticed that it is prominently on the agenda of this EU leadership. Since day one of China-EU diplomatic ties, which were established 45 years ago, China's position and approach to the EU have remained consistent. We always believe that the EU is a major actor in the international landscape and an important pole in this multipolar world. Based on such an approach, we do not think that strategic autonomy is a surprising concept. Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, notably since the launch of reform and opening up, China has remained firmly committed to a peaceful development path and an independent foreign policy of peace. So China fully understands the concept of strategic autonomy.

China and the EU are two major forces, markets, and civilizations. China-EU relationship has a value of its own. It is not and it should not be attached to any other state-to-state relations. The investment agreement is a good example in this regard. For China and the EU, which are comprehensive strategic partners, reaching a bilateral investment agreement after many years of earnest negotiations is something not surprising and something reasonable. It reflects the spirit of independence. China fully respects the EU’s strategic economy.

As you've rightly pointed out, last September, President Xi Jinping announced that China will strive to peak its carbon emissions by 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. At the Climate Ambition Summit held at the end of last year, President Xi Jinping announced further commitments to 2030. He said that China will lower its carbon emissions per unit of GDP by over 65% from the level of 2005, increase the share of non-fossil fuels in primary energy consumption to around 25%, increase the forest stock volume by 6 billion cubic meters from 2005, and bring its total installed capacity of wind and solar power to over 1.2 billion kilowatts.

This is a clear roadmap towards carbon emissions peaking target we have set for 2030. This speaks to China's commitment to working together with the EU and other global partners in addressing climate change. It reflects our firm support for multilateralism.

Since we have made the commitment, we mean it and we will deliver on it. It requires teamwork to address climate change. Every team member has to contribute its due share. We need to work together to develop necessary technologies, increase input to renewable energy, and plant more trees. All team members need to join forces.

To address climate change, we also need to bear in mind the importance of promoting economic and social development, and improving people's livelihoods. There needs to be the right balance between addressing climate change and improving people's likelihoods. It is particularly true for less developed countries. In these countries, there is still a huge room for improvement to elevate people's living standards. So we must make sure that climate actions will contribute to the improvement of people's well-being rather than the opposite. That is why the Common But Differentiated Responsibility principle is of particular importance in taking climate actions.

Starting from the 1990s, China has gradually increased its input in environmental protection and ever since then, the EU has also started the relevant cooperation projects in China. The relevant projects undertaken by the EU contribute to China's energy conservation and emissions reduction. Two years ago, in some sectors in China, we started applying the emissions trading system, which, to some degree, was attributable to the support of the EU partners. We are grateful for what the EU had done to us and we are glad that green corporation has gradually become a key pillar for China-EU relations.

As I said in my opening remarks, last year Chinese and EU leaders decided to launch the high-level dialogue on environment and climate change. Next Monday, we are going to have the first round of this dialogue. The EU is working on the Green Deal. This year, China will kick-start its 14th Five-Year Plan, in which green development is a key feature.

There are many commonalities between the two initiatives. We have a shared philosophy in terms of green development. We are going to turn these shared commitments into concrete actions in such areas as environment-friendly technologies, circular economy,green and clean energy, and sustainable finance.

The UN Biodiversity Conference was originally scheduled for last year in Kunming. But due to the COVID-19, it has been postponed to this year. A similar case goes to Glasgow Conference as well, and it will be held in the UK in November this year. So, it is up to China and the EU to join forces to make good coordination in preparations for the two conferences to ensure that these conferences will be productive and fruitful.

RTP TV: First, I would like you to comment on one of the priorities of the Portuguese presidency. That’s related to improving the relations between the European Union and India and seeking to reduce the bloc’s dependence on China. You cited a good example of this. That was the business on medical equipment at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. The second question is how do you foresee the future relations between the European Union and China with the new American Administration? Because it seems that Brussels intends to turn itself to the Atlantic side. Can this have a negative impact on EU-China relations?

Zhang Ming: EU is an important power in the international community. We fully respect its foreign policy. We're also happy to see more progress and development for relations between the EU and other members of the international community, including the EU-India relationship. India is an emerging power. It has achieved very promising progress in the past decades. It's also an immediate neighbor of China. We attach great importance to the bilateral relationship between China and India. I don't think the development of any bilateral relationship should mean reducing cooperation with a third party. We have witnessed globalization for decades. The world has benefited from globalization. Due to globalization, the members of the international community become more dependent on each other. This is one of the significant features of today's world. We are supposed to continue our way, progress on the path of globalization, and strengthen cooperation among all members of the international community. At the same time, maybe all members will depend more on each other. That's why we advocate the community with a shared future for mankind. This is our future. All the people, all the countries in the world, we share one future. We cannot try the so-called decoupling or separating one from the other. I don't think it's the right way. The keyword is link. To link each other will strengthen our capability to win the future, the shared future.

China has congratulated President Joe Biden on his inauguration. We are expecting to work together with the new US administration in a spirit of non-confrontation, non-conflict, mutual respect, and win-win cooperation, focusing on cooperation instead of confrontation to manage differences between the two sides, and bring the China-US relationship back to a healthy and stable development path.

In the past years, for reasons well-known, the China-US relationship, EU-US relationship, and some other bilateral relationships have gone through difficulties. Both China and the EU are victims of unilateralism and protectionism. Both of us believe in multilateralism and stick to openness in the international trade system. We noticed that the United States has made the decision to come back to the Paris Agreement and the WHO. It's good news. Now we are facing severe challenges in the world and at the same time great opportunities. Just as President Xi Jinping said at the Davos Forum a couple of days ago, a divided world cannot help humanity face the challenges. Confrontation will lead humanity to a dead end. Anyway, the international community is supposed to work together in solidarity and cooperate closely for their shared future.

Both China and the EU are two major forces for world peace. We are two big markets for growth and development. We represent the two great civilizations for the progress of human beings. As comprehensive strategic partners, the China-EU relationship has stood the test of the times and changes of the international situation. I think this relationship enjoys its own independent value. It should not be attached to any other major power relationship. I personally have full confidence in the future of the steady development of the China-EU relationship. Just now we talked about strategic autonomy. I hope the EU will stick to the spirit and develop strategic autonomy to guide its foreign relations with major countries in the world, including China, for the sake of the stability and progress of our world.

Euronews: You mentioned that the investment agreement contributes to the global economic recovery and it's also a show of China's commitments to reforms and openness. Could you give us some concrete examples of economic business sectors that will have more access to European actors, and sectors where the Chinese government would probably ease the state aid? In terms of the 5G program, the European Union is still not convinced that the Chinese technology would be in its best interests. What is your point of view?

Zhang Ming: The investment agreement is a high-standard bilateral document, which covers several aspects. First, on market access as you mentioned, it involves the concrete interests of both sides, and this topic is cared most by industries and businesses. Since we announced the conclusion of the negotiations, I have been closely following the response of EU friends from different sectors to this agreement and I have hardly heard any negative comments on market access. According to this agreement, for the first time, China commits to a negative-list approach to all economic sectors including the services sectors. China will further open up automobile, healthcare, finance, cloud services, and other sectors in which the EU side is highly interested. These are major steps to be taken by China with strong determination. According to the agreement, both sides commit to lifting or removing restrictions on enterprises in most sectors regarding their R&D activities and export performance in order to refrain from an impact on the establishment and operation of these companies.

The second major aspect of the agreement is the level playing field. The agreement is aligned with international high-standard economic and trade rules and has set out provisions and rules on state-owned enterprises, subsidy transparency, transfer of technology, and regulatory enforcement. These rules aim to ensure that Chinese and EU investors while operating in the other’s market could enjoy a high-level and law-based business environment.

The third major aspect of the agreement is sustainable development. After more than 40 years of reform and opening-up, China has entered a new stage of development. We practice a new philosophy of development and take a people-centered approach to development. We are attaching increasing importance to the protection of the environment and labor rights. We have noticed that a key feature of the new-generation international economic and trade agreements is the inclusion of environment and labor issues related to trade and investment. Based on this consideration, the China-EU investment agreement sets out a specialized chapter on environmental and labor issues related to investment.

These are the three major parts of the agreement. The European Commission has already published the main body of the text. You could take a closer look for more information.

On 5G, for the past 30 years, Chinese ICT companies have come a long way in the development of digital technologies. That would not be possible without close cooperation with other global partners based on international rules. Experience has taught us that economic, social and technological development would not be possible without multilateralism and international cooperation. When we talk about Chinese companies, Huawei, an excellent private enterprise, always comes to our mind first. It has a wide network of global partnerships, including here in Europe,and gains a good reputation in the world. It has had over 20 years of presence in the European markets. Unfortunately, starting from about 2 years ago, there has been increasing discrediting and criticism on this company on the grounds of security. Yet people who criticize the company can't come up with any solid evidence to support their allegations.

Increasingly, cybersecurity has become a shared concern for the whole international community, be it Europe, China, Africa, or Latin America. To safeguard security, some countries resort to the law of the jungle by trying to bring down other countries’ companies. However, in my view, the only right approach is international cooperation.

On 5G, I could observe two wrong tendencies. The first one is the willful destruction of rules. Certain countries are making an issue of security. They have listed Chinese companies as the so-called “high-risk suppliers” or directly excluded Chinese companies from their 5G markets. Yet, as I said earlier, they have not come up with any concrete evidence nor do they have any clear criteria for the so-called “high-risk suppliers”. To treat a company differently simply because of its country of origin is nothing but a typical act of discrimination and protectionism. It does not comply with the market principles of fairness and openness. It is not tenable legally.

The second wrong tendency I could observe on 5G is to disregard laws governing market operations and technological development. 5G is an outcome of international cooperation. Its industrial and supply chains are formulated in accordance with laws governing market operations and technological development. Any politically-driven or artificial attempt to distort 5G supply chains or exclude technologically advanced companies would only delay 5G deployment and application, hurt the interests of various parties, including suppliers, operators and consumers, and eventually choking market competition and innovation.

At the end of the day, it is not about the rights and interests of a certain company. It is about market order and principles. I noticed a recent statement made by the European Competitive Telecommunication Association, which denounced any ban on 5G suppliers from a certain country for geopolitical reasons. A report by Oxford University pointed out that in 2019 Huawei contributed 16.4 billion euros in economic benefits to Europe and supported 224,300 jobs here in Europe. These are facts and sensible voices. We hope that the EU institutions and the member states will listen carefully to the voices of the academic and business circles, respect market rules, and fairly treat countries from all over the world.

As I said earlier, the issue we're discussing now is not only about the interests of a certain company or the employment here in Europe. I am worried about the fact that rules are being disregarded or even destroyed. People often say that Europe is a role model in formulating and observing rules. I hope that is the case. If we compare an individual or company breaking rules to the polluter of a river, then the breach of rules by European governments and the EU institutions could be seen as polluting the very source of the river.

In a market economy, fairness and rules are of paramount importance. With sense and wisdom, we could clearly see what is actually going on in the sector of 5G. We cannot help but worry that an avalanche could eventually happen due to the pouring of snowflakes.

5G is not a geopolitical tool, but a platform for mutually beneficial cooperation. To safeguard 5G security, we need cooperation. We need a constructive not a destructive approach. China and the EU have decided to launch the High-level Digital Dialogue. We hope that this mechanism could play a positive role in helping us dispel disturbances and deepening cooperation on 5G and other digital technologies. We noticed that at the end of last year, the EU published a communication on the future transatlantic relations, which said that the EU and the US need to step up cooperation on 5G and the related sectors. We hope such cooperation observes international rules, respects laws governing market and technological development and does not target any third party.

Lusa: I would like to go back to the investment agreement. I would like to know what's your expectation regarding the timetable. How do you think this agreement can benefit the investment in Portugal from Chinese companies or either way from Portuguese companies in China, for example. Do you foresee more investment in Portugal due to this agreement and also talking about Portugal specifically? What's your opinion about these advisers from the European Union regarding the elimination of some investment programs such as golden visas and that type of investment programs that for example will be really used for Chinese investors in Portugal.

Zhang Ming: On the investment agreement timetable, as I explained at the very beginning, we are going to have the legal scrubbing and translation of the text. This is not about restarting the negotiation. We are just sorting out and finalizing the details. After that, we will find the right time through consultation to sign this agreement. We hope that Portugal, as the holder of the rotating presidency, could give a push to teams from both sides. The ideal situation is that the agreement will be formally ratified by the end of this year or at the beginning of next year, and then the agreement will enter into force.

China and Portugal are very good and close partners. Portugal, as an EU member state, will benefit from the investment agreement. The agreement will further facilitate the Chinese and EU investors’ access to the other’s markets. There will be more EU investment flowing into China and there will be more Chinese FDI flowing into the EU including Portugal.

Regarding the golden visa issue, this is an internal matter of the EU. There are some investors who are trying to gain residence permits or visas through investment. This is not something encouraged by the Chinese government.

Closing remarks of Ambassador Zhang Ming:

Thank you, dear friends. I'm very happy to have the chance to communicate with you. And your country is a very close friend with China. Of course, Portugal was not the first European country to establish diplomatic ties with my country. Maybe it's one of the latest European countries to set up ties with China. But since the establishment of the ties in the late 1970s, the bilateral relationship between our two countries has been developing smoothly and fast. Now we can see very close cooperation between our two countries. I think we can consider China-Portugal relationship as a model. I think the secret is mutual respect. Portugal shows great respect for China and China shows great respect for Portugal. Both of us never intervene in the internal affairs of the other. I think this is one of the secrets and I do hope we'll continue to promote our cooperation for the sake of our two countries and two peoples.

In two weeks, we are going to have our lunar new year, the Spring Festival. The new year will be the year of ox, which represents hard work and prosperity. Let's work hard for the prosperity of Portugal, China, and all the international community. Now the COVID-19 is still serious and I hope you will take good care of yourselves, your families, and your colleagues. All the best.

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