Lu Shaye Photo: Courtesy of Chinese Embassy in France
With the optimization and adjustment of its COVID policies, China is expected to welcome more foreign leaders in 2023. Among them, French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed explicitly his willingness to visit China. In recent years, China-EU relations have seen some obstacles emerging against the backdrop of the US-led strategic containment of China and the Ukraine war. In an exclusive interview with Global Times reporters Chen Qingqing and Bai Yunyi (GT), Chinese Ambassador to France Lu Shaye (Lu) talked about prospects of China-EU relations as influenced by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict, the Taiwan question, and China-France ties with the US’ exertion of pressure on its major allies.
GT: French President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly expressed his desire to visit China this spring. If President Macron is able to make the trip, in what areas can we expect China and France to forge partnerships? In recent months, several European leaders have visited China or expressed their willingness to visit China. What signal do you think this sends to the outside world?
Lu: If President Macron’s reported visit to China can take place, we hope that the two countries will make comprehensive plans for China-France relations and cooperation in various fields in the post-pandemic era, so as to inject new impetus into China-EU relations.
The cooperation between China and France has a solid foundation and covers a wide range of fields, including traditional pillar fields such as civil nuclear energy and aerospace, as well as emerging fields such as agriculture, food, new energy, medical care, sanitation, and the digital economy. It is hoped that enterprises and relevant departments in the two countries will seize the opportunity and reach as many cooperation intentions as possible.
The current international situation is complicated and severe, and China-EU relations are under enormous pressure. European leaders have visited China one after another or expressed their willingness to visit China. On the one hand, it reflects China’s important status in the world. Engaging in ideological confrontations cannot discount the existence of China; on the other hand, this also reflects that China-EU relations are closely linked, and a depth of interest is owed to each side, which determines mutual benefit and the strong resilience of the bilateral relationship.
GT: Many analysts believe that there has been an ebb in China-EU relations in the last two years fraught with many difficulties. What do you think is the main reason for this? Is today’s China-EU relationship somewhat easing compared to the previous two years?
Lu: China-EU relations have indeed encountered many difficulties in the last two years, which is regrettable. I think there are several reasons for this. First, the US has comprehensively increased its containment and suppression of China, coercing and luring its allies, including the EU, to take sides.
Especially, since the start of the Ukraine crisis, the US has tried its best to promote the rhetoric of “democracy vs authoritarianism.” At the same time, it has engaged in anti-China propaganda and spread various rumors and lies, seriously misleading European governments and people’s views on China.
Second, there has been a serious deviation in the EU’s positioning of China. The EU regards China as not only a partner, but also a competitor and an institutional opponent. This reveals the opportunistic and speculative mind-set of some EU politicians.
Third, small EU countries like Lithuania as well as the European Parliament have made a series of deleterious moves related to China’s Taiwan and Xinjiang regions, seriously damaging China’s core interests, and China has had to respond accordingly.
Fourth, the COVID-19 pandemic has also disrupted China-EU economic and trade cooperation and cultural exchanges, deepening the gap between the two sides.
Despite the grim situation, we still believe that there is no fundamental conflict of interests or contradiction between China and the EU, at least geographically. The two sides do not pose a security threat to each other.
As for ideological differences – which is the matter that Europeans like to talk about all the time – to be honest, the reality is that neither side can change the other. So why can’t we put it aside and not let such differences hinder the cooperation between the two sides on common interests?
I think Europe should not try to “hit China with an ideological club” and expect cooperation in return.
We hope that the two sides will, in the spirit of seeking common ground while reserving differences and overcoming difficulties together, take the opportunity of China’s optimization and adjustment of epidemic prevention and control policies to accelerate the restart of China-EU high-level exchanges, economic and trade cooperation, and people-to-people and cultural exchanges, so as to revive China-EU relations.
GT: Do you think there is a contradiction between China developing the China-EU relations without limits and China developing the China-Russia relations with no limits, especially after the Russia-Ukraine war broke out leading to deteriorated Russia-Europe relations? Can such duality still be achieved?
It is indeed a bit difficult. However, we develop friendly and cooperative relations with all countries in the world on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. If other countries are willing to abide by these five principles, I believe that our relationship with any country can be limitless.
At the same time, we adhere to the stance of partnership and non-alignment, and our relations with all countries neither target third parties nor are restricted by third parties.
Both Russia and the EU are important forces on the international stage, and both are important partners of China. For us, China-Russia relations and China-EU relations can go hand in hand, and this is also the right that a sovereign state has to decide.
In fact, we also believe that Europe and Russia can coexist peacefully. However, their relationship is really broken now. We are also worried about the continued deterioration of Russia-Europe relations, because this is not good for Europe and Russia, nor for world peace and stability.
Therefore, we actively advocate for and support the improvement of relations between the EU and Russia, and push for them to establish a balanced, effective, and sustainable European security framework. If the two sides can resolve the issue of the security framework, a long-term foundation for peace and stability in Europe can be laid.
GT: Are China-EU relations and China-Russia relations equally important to China? Or does it matter who comes first?
Lu: From the perspective of the development of bilateral relations, China-Russia relations have developed to a historically excellent level in the last two decades, especially in the last decade. Under the current complicated international situation, There are indeed more common interests between China and Russia.
Regarding China-EU relationship, we are also willing to develop it to a very high level, but this does not depend on the Chinese side alone. It still requires the cooperation of both sides. As I said before, the development of China-EU relations has not reached the level it should have been due to certain disturbances and obstacles in recent years.
Besides, Europe is increasingly subject to the US so its international status and influence, as well as the role it can play, are actually being greatly reduced. To be honest, this is not conducive to Europe’s own interests, nor to China-EU relations. The above-mentioned factors have led to the actual gap between China-EU relations and China-Russia relations.
GT: About the Taiwan question, do you think the risks around the Taiwan Straits will increase in 2023? What is the attitude of French society toward the question? During the last two years, an increasing number of European MPs have visited the island of Taiwan. How will the Chinese mainland respond?
The situation in the Taiwan Straits has indeed been tense in the last two years. The main reason is that the US has been more provocative over the question, and it wants to provoke China to get involved in a war and interrupt the process of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. The US has started a war in Europe, and it wants to start a war in Asia as well. This kind of strategic intention by the US is becoming more and more obvious. When I communicated with the French people, I did not hide my concern.
I think China’s response is prudent, which reflects not only our firm will and position but also our flexible strategy and art of struggle.
From the actual results, what we have seen is that the continuous provocations the US has made in the last two years have given us more opportunities to increase control over the situation in the Taiwan Straits, and we have greater dominance and have shown initiative in resolving the Taiwan question. Therefore, the strategic anxiety of the US is getting bigger, and with it the risk-taking intention is also on the rise. We must pay close attention to this.
The French society is also paying greater attention to the situation in the Taiwan Straits, and the tone is basically the same as that of the US. Besides, there are many ambiguous or even wrong narratives about the Taiwan question in the French public opinion, such as “treating Taiwan as a country” and “comparing it to Ukraine.”I think their purpose is to create a general false impression among the public and create a public opinion environment in which we are unable to take any action regarding the Taiwan question. If we want to take action, it will become a so-called aggressive act or the “breaching of sovereignty and territorial integrity of another country.”
When it comes to the visits of some European MPs including some French MPs to the island, I think those acts are aimed to hype up questions that attract public attention, using the occasion of the US’ provocations to attract some attention for themselves.
To be honest, their visits to the island of Taiwan did not have much effect on the overall situation in the Taiwan Straits.
But on the other hand, the political implications of their behavior are bad. They just want to create the false narrative that “Taiwan is a country,” a distortion of fact designed to make us ignore their ulterior motives.
Every time such visits occur, we negotiate with the French side and take some punitive measures against said European MPs. In the future, we will continue to do so. We should let Europeans and the West understand that neither the Chinese government nor the people have room for compromise on the Taiwan question.
GT: You often confront Western scholars and politicians in the Western media. We have noticed that some Western scholars are keen on perpetuating the argument that “China has no friends in the world.” Of course, their “world” mainly refers to the West. Do you think China has friends in the West? For example, does China consider France as one of its friends?
Lu: Some Westerners are obsessed with West-centrism. They believe that the West is the world itself. They habitually ignore and despise the non-Western world, which is mainly comprised of developing countries. The West still has not gotten rid of the old problems of racism and racial discrimination. In fact, the West has only more than 30 countries with a population of about 1 billion while the non-West has more than 160 countries and a population of 7 billion, far exceeding the West.
Over the years, China has established various forms of partnerships with more than 110 countries and international organizations. We can say that China has friends all over the world, and the network of global partnerships is getting denser and stronger.
Many of our friends are also from Western countries. Most Western countries and the EU have established comprehensive strategic partnerships with China, carried out fruitful and mutually beneficial cooperation, and made positive contributions to their own development and world prosperity and stability.
France is the first major Western country to formally establish diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) [in 1964], and also the first Western country to establish a comprehensive strategic partnership with China. China-France relations have long been at the forefront of China-West relations.
We have always considered France to be our friend in the Western world. Faced with the current changes in the international situation, we hope that France will always adhere to the spirit of independence, always handle its relations with China from the perspective of strategy and guided by long-term interests, and embody the true meaning of the China-France comprehensive strategic partnership with practical actions.