By Shen Zhifei, Chinese Ambassador to Lithuania
At this fascinating time of lush green, China-EU relations have ushered in another “warm spring”. Last month, Chinese President Xi Jinping paid fruitful visits to Italy, France and Monaco. Earlier this month, the 21st China-EU Summit and the 8th Summit of Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries concluded with full success, as demonstrated in the China-EU Joint Statement and Dubrovnik Guidelines for Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries and a dozen of cooperation agreements signed.
Both sides staked out the position of maintaining multilateralism and open world economy while opposing trade protectionism and unilateralism. European Council President Donald Tusk commented “We managed to agree a joint statement, which sets the direction for our partnership based on reciprocity. This was our common effort and it is our common success.” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker remarked “We believe in China and we believe in our partnership. And we are ready to work together and at the same time be more ambitious in standing up for our interests and values.” Lithuanian Prime Minister S. Skvernelis attended the 16+1 Summit and witnessed the signing of Protocol on Lithuanian wheat exports to China, which pushed China-Lithuanian agricultural cooperation to a new height.
Nevertheless，I have also noticed some negative comments on China-EU relations and “16+1 Cooperation” from Lithuanian internet media. Distortions of the latest achievements in China-EU and 16+1 cooperation are found in articles like “Chinese puzzle: how to understand this rising power” written by editor-in-chief of Alfa and “China sneaking from the South: Beijing’s ambition in Europe is part of a long and careful strategy” posted on Delfi.lt. The authors seemed to have been exhausting their efforts in discrediting China by claiming “It primarily targets the fragile spots of the countries in the Old Continent”, “The highway built in Montenegro is stalling and Montenegro is at the verge of bankruptcy as a result of building the highway using Chinese credit” to imply “China poses long-term threat and challenge to EU and Lithuania alone amid short-term interest”.
It has to be said that these articles have represented a grave distortion of facts and a distinct lack of responsibility. Harboring deep-rooted cold war mentality, the authors doubted the political purposes of China’s international cooperation, advocated “China security threat” theory and advised Lithuanian government on China policy accordingly. Regrettably, the comment and outlook on China-EU relations, far from that of EU leaders, only reflect their narrow security approach and limited global vision that is lagging behind the times. As misleading as can be, the articles indeed poison the atmosphere of reasonable public discussion.
Concerns over security issues in Lithuania have been shaped by both historical origins and realistic considerations. Though the world has maintained overall peace, some regions and countries are still living in the shadow of armed conflict and war while anti-globalization, trade protectionism and populism are on the rise. Humankind is faced with growing destabilizing and uncertain factors. However, sticking to cold war mentality and zero-sum mindset as well as believing in narrow sense and absolute security in the current global background is nothing but backtracking of history. It is expected to lead to further fragmentation of international relations and global governance, eventually harming development and security interests of all countries.
In my perspective, security interest is to be defended by promoting development and upgrading capacity building. Development stands as the best way to maintain peace and security. A country’s national interests and security are better secured by economic growth and prosperity amid full integration into global development. It is only realized by blazing a path consistent with the trend of the times and its own national conditions. Security interest is also to be defended in an all-around, high-level and in-depth international cooperation. Only by promoting the well-being of its own and others, can a country better guarantee its security and respond to major challenges in an effective effort. EU and its member states’ cooperation and communication with China in various fields serve the interests of all parties, bringing increasing development opportunities rather than security threats.
As an important part of and helpful complement to “Belt and Road” Initiative and China-EU comprehensive strategic partnership, what lies behind 16+1 Cooperation’s growing from strength to strength over the past 7 years? New momentum of growth have been added to Central and Eastern European countries in their joint actions with China. Cooperation opportunities of projects and programs have been offered timely in need. Infrastructure constructions have been started from scratch. The cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European countries is in vigorous demand and has delivered tangible benefits to more people. It serves to narrow the gap between Central and Eastern European countries and other EU member states as well as to promote connectivity between EU countries, thus contributing to the stability and prosperity of EU as a whole. For this reason, Greece applied for joining “16+1” and has been approved by all the member states.
As for the “debt trap” accusations against China, it is not even worth refuting. The governments, business communities and the general public of many countries that have participated in and benefited from the BRI have spoken up and debunked such groundless assertions with facts and figures. Decisions made under the BRI framework, whether project selection or investment and financing cooperation, are all based on full consultation among the parties and on the basis of conducting due risk assessment and investment feasibility study, as well as subjected to strict approval procedures.China and other 27 countries have jointly adopted the Guiding Principles on Financing the Development of the Belt and Road, which highlights the need to ensure debt sustainability in project financing. Not a single country has got trapped in a debt crisis since its participation in the BRI or 16+1 Cooperation to date. Quite on the contrary, through participating in BRI cooperation, many countries have got out of the trap of “no development” and look forward to expanding cooperation with China. It is even more groundless that “The highway project in Montenegro is stalling” and “It’s leading to the bankruptcy of Montenegro Government”. As a matter of fact, according to the Montenegrin Prime Minister, the project is currently progressing smoothly. No one is in a better position to judge the issue than the Montenegrins.
Being a member state of EU, Lithuania is an open economy and ranks high globally in regards of business environment. Lithuania takes an active role in “Belt and Road Initiative” and “16+1 cooperation”. In 2018, bilateral trade volume has hit record high. Lithuania has been the first country to sign a letter of intent to attend China International Import Expo. In view of the great reward at the first EXPO, Lithuanian companies are highly enthusiastic about attending the second EXPO. China-Europe Railway Express, connectivity project of “Belt and Road Initiative”, presents boundless potential for Lithuania’s ambition of building Europe-Asia Logistics Center. Maintaining this good momentum and achieving more fruitful results of practical cooperation serves the interests of both China and Lithuania and is therefore the common task for both sides. On the contrary, the nightmare of security threat is never to be shaked off clinging to outdated cold war mentality. One will only find himself left with shackles if he sees China’s development through colored lenses and makes groundless accusations against China-EU cooperation. Furthermore, development opportunities will be missed, resulting in harming its own development and security interests. I sincerely hope that those doubting China-EU and China-Lithuania cooperation go over
Joint statement of the 21st EU-China summit and Dubrovnik Guidelines for Cooperation between China and Central and Eastern European Countries, grasp the direction and opportunities of China-EU cooperation, understand China’s opening-up policy and its relation with EU/ Lithuania from a global and strategic perspective in a rational way of thinking, so as to be genuine defenders, advocators and promoters of Lithuanian development and national security interests.