Delegates from over 30 political parties of 24 European countries and representatives from the European Parliament met with their Chinese counterparts in Beijing on May 17-18 to attend the 5th China-Europe High Level Political Parties Forum, an occasion to strengthen interparty relations and explore cooperation opportunities arising from the China-proposed 'Belt and Road” initiative and green development.

Liu Yunshan (R), a member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee, meets with European delegates attending the 5th China-Europe High-Level Political Parties Forum in Beijing, May 17.

Current Sino-European relations are marked by improved quality and enhanced effectiveness, as both sides are actively constructing a partnership for the continuous promotion of peace, growth, reform and civilization, while exploring the most suitable ways to develop.

Making friends with international political parties is a major task for the International Department of the CPC Central Committee (IDCPC), the liaison agency for China's ruling party and the organizer of China-Europe interparty talks.

Amicable relations with foreign political parties mean that they are likely to introduce favorable China policies when in power and generate no anti-China sentiment when part of the opposition, according to the IDCPC. In other words, once there is amity between political parties of two countries, intergovernmental rapport will come naturally.

Liu Yunshan, member of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee, met with the European delegation and briefed them on China's new development concepts, namely, innovation, coordination, care for the environment, opening-up and sharing. He noted that the Belt and Road regional infrastructure and trade initiative is based on openness, inclusiveness and practicality.

'The Chinese party and government attach great importance to the China-Europe relationship, regarding Europe as an important power in today's world,' Liu said.

Sergei Stanishev, leader of the Bulgarian Socialist Party and former Bulgarian prime minister, said that the European side admires China's achievement in reform and opening up as well as the CPC's governance.

He agreed that China's ideas for development and its proposal of the 'Belt and Road' initiative will enhance interconnectivity between Europe and China and will, in turn, benefit all people along the routes.

'There is clearly a strong convergence between the EU investment plan and the Chinese initiative. We have to find synergies between our respective infrastructure and connectivity policies. We can together achieve a lot; even more since China decided last month to contribute to the European Fund for Strategic Investment,' said Stanishev, reiterating that China was the first non-European state to declare its financial contribution to the Juncker Plan.

In his keynote speech delivered at the forum, Stanishev recognized that China has been 'building its own version of market economy with the active role of the state' over the past two decades, and this model has helped China recover faster from the global financial crisis than other large economies.

Stanishev's remark reflected a shared view among leaders of European political parties and it amounted to a support of China's disappointment over the European Union's refusal to grant China a market economy status (MES).

Istvan Ujhelyi, vice chair of the Hungarian Socialist Party and vice chair of the Committee on Transport and Tourism of the European Parliament, explained that those who voted against granting China the MES 'were representing the interest of their own people and country' and might not have had the larger picture and the entire EU's interest in mind.

'Europe doesn't consider China as a competitor but a strategic partner, so that Europe and China will have much to do on a bilateral level on the global stage,' Ujhelyi said, also adding that the 'Belt and Road' interconnectivity plan would mean 'closer people-to-people ties,' more than just a trading of products. This would at least mean more Chinese people taking trips to Europe to boost the European tourism sector, which is one of his major concerns.

Currently, China already produces 30 percent of the world's GDP and for the next five years, China's import volume of concrete goods will reach US$10 trillion, while foreign investment exceed US$500 billion, and more than 500 million Chinese tourists will take international trips.

'China's green development and open development are both major opportunities for China-Europe cooperation,' said Song Tao, minister of the IDCPC, at the forum.

Song said that both China and Europe are exploring their own, suitable development pattern amid challenges and pressures from both home and abroad. But such complicated circumstances mean more common interests with a greater necessity of cooperation in a community of shared future. 'We are connected. No one can leave each other,' he said.

Closer China-Europe interparty ties now seem more important as China is engaged in disputes with other countries in and beyond the South China Sea over sovereignty claims and freedom of navigation. Earlier this month, the Chinese government reiterated that it would not accept any impending results of a UN arbitration panel's deliberations on a territorial dispute with the Philippines in the South China Sea.

Many European delegates to the forum expressed their understanding of and support for China's position regarding the South China Sea issue, and said that the disputes should not be resolved by means of a forced arbitration initiated by the Philippines, but by bilateral dialogues and negotiations.

Vojtech Filip, leader of the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia of the Czech Republic, believed an international arbitration should only be filed when bilateral negotiations fail. He noted that, in accordance with Article 298 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), China made a declaration excluding disputes concerning maritime delimitation, historic bay or titles, military activity and law enforcement activities from compulsory arbitration and other compulsory dispute settlement procedures. Hence, any UN arbitration on the South China Sea would apply to China, said Filip.

IDCPC minister Song Tao thanked European delegates and reiterated that 'there isn't any problem concerning freedom of navigation in the South China Sea according to international laws.'

'China firmly preserves all countries' freedom of navigation according to international laws but at the same time firmly opposes the 'freedom of hegemony' that harms other countries' sovereignty,' he said.

Song said that although the South China Sea issue does not concern China-Europe relations, Europe should caution and prevent itself from being manipulated by countries regarding the issue and from upsetting the peace and stability in East Asia.

Apart from seeking consensus and mutual support, the routine interparty meet-up between Chinese and European political leaders offers a platform to exchange governance experience, given the fact that political parties are the main carriers of a country's governance.

Hence, routine interparty talks help to address ideological and strategic issues – not necessarily concrete projects and contracts – to form a tie that is independent of, yet connected with, intergovernmental relations.

To cater to the interests of political parties from different countries, the forum has specially set up two panel discussions, respectively centered on the themes of 'Open Development: China-Europe Cooperation under the Framework of the ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative' and 'Green Development: New Opportunities for China-Europe Cooperation.' According to the IDCPC, the eastern and central European countries are more interested in common development brought by the 'Belt and Road' initiative, while green development is a topic more to the likings of western and northern Europe.

In addition to the two-day forum, a number of European delegates also took an inspection trip to Zhengzhou, the provincial capital of Henan in central China.

Minister Song Tao of the IDCPC delivers a keynote speech at the forum on May 17.

European delegates at the forum

The 5th China-Europe High Level Political Parties Forum opens in Beijing on May 17.


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