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19th Sep 2019

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EU-Chinese 'misunderstanding' on the rise, senior Beijing official warns

  • Ms Fu Ying (c) during her time as ambassador to the UK (Photo: Steve Smith)

China's deputy foreign minister has warned that the level of "misunderstanding" between Brussels and Beijing is on the rise, despite the EU's new architectural framework, designed in part to improve the bloc's dialogue with the international community.

Ms Fu Ying made the comments in an interview with EUobserver in Strasbourg on Tuesday (6 July), ahead of a series of meetings with senior European Parliament officials.

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"I think the misunderstanding is strong on the European side and is growing on the Chinese side as well," said Ms Fu, whose portfolio includes handling her country's relations with Europe and Taiwan.

"Since 2008, the perceived China-bashing sentiment of European countries has hurt China and Chinese people," explained Beijing's most senior female official, whose previous positions include three years as ambassador to the UK.

And while China hopes for an improvement under the Lisbon Treaty, the EU's new rulebook that creates a stronger foreign policy supremo in the shape of Catherine Ashton, so far there has been little tangible evidence of change.

"I'm not saying the new position is not working, it [simply] hasn't started very much yet," said Ms Fu of the seven-month old post, conceding that she has never spoken to Ms Ashton over the phone to discuss bilateral issues.

Despite strong trade ties, a number of recurring issues continue to create tension between the two sides.

Among them, Europe's perceived unwillingness to grant China market economy status, an escalating number of trade disputes and persistent criticism of the country's human rights record, especially from MEPs, continue to vex Chinese officials.

This comes despite the fact that some NGOs say Europe's criticism of conditions in the autonomous regions of Tibet and Xinjiang has been increasingly overtaken by commercial interests.

At the same time, European businesses say they receive unfair treatment when operating inside the Asian powerhouse economy, while the valuation of China's renminbi currency has attracted harsh criticism since an effective currency peg with the dollar was put in place in 2008.

Renminbi

US and EU pressure on the currency issue appeared to bear fruit last month, when China announced its intention to allow the renminbi greater flexibility to appreciate.

This decision however, insists Ms Fu, reflects the easing of the global economic recession rather than external influences.

"We don't like the pressure from outside because Chinese people are now asking why we changed our currency stance because somebody told us to," she said.

The conflicting nature of domestic and international demands is also evident in market access disputes.

In April, the EU Chamber of Commerce in China said growing nationalist sentiment expressed by Chinese internet users is driving the country's protectionist policies at the expense of foreign firms.

Taken together, the litany of potential flashpoints between the two sides seems likely to keep Ms Fu busy in the coming years, with Europe's tendency to hand out advice also grating against Beijing.

"Europe believes it has the best and that the whole world should copy it, although after a long period of time, many countries that did copy it are not so successful," said Ms Fu. "But Europe does not lose its confidence, you keep on lecturing."

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