China and Europe can build a new partnership out of this crisis

The year 2011 will have a unique place in history for the dramatic changes in the global landscape and the world economy. The most frequently asked questions from my European colleagues are: "How does China see Europe?" "Where are China-EU relations going?"

Co-operation and partnership with Europe has been running through China's foreign policy for decades. This commitment remains strong.

China-Europe relations have come a long way. In the mid-1970s China's trade with the European Economic Community was a mere $2.5bn a year; with the 27-member EU it now totals $480bn a year. The EU has become China's top trading partner and premier source of technology and investment.

In the decade following China's accession to the World Trade Organisation in 2001, China imported more than $100bn worth of goods and services from Europe every year. This has created 1m jobs for Europe. In the past 30 years of reform and opening up, China has looked to Europe to learn from its rich experience in governance and institution-building wherever applicable. President Hu Jintao told Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, last May: "An economically stable and prosperous Europe is in the interest of China and the world."

Premier Wen Jiabao stressed that, no matter how the world changes, Europe will always be a strategic priority for China. In 2011, China and European countries exchanged visits more frequently and at higher levels. Our joint efforts to address the crisis have created a strong bond between Chinese and European leaders.

The EU has surpassed Japan as the top source of Chinese imports. According to the European Chamber of Commerce in China, 59% of European companies saw their profits in China grow last year and 70% have benefited from China's economic growth. And from January to July this year, China's direct investment in Europe topped $1bn.

As the European sovereign debt crisis deepens, the pessimists seemed to have won the day. The majority view in China, however, is to give Europe a vote of confidence. In China's eyes, Europe remains the strongest, most wealthy and best integrated region in the world, with enormous advantages to fall back on: advanced science and technology, high-quality human resources and the capacity to reform and innovate.

Europe has been through numerous crises in the past. Each time, it moved on and became stronger. We have every reason to believe that Europe has the wisdom, capacity and resources to overcome its problems through reform and readjustment. Closer European integration may be just around the corner.

An interesting debate has emerged about whether China can and will ride to the rescue of the euro. Some thought China should help Europe out. Others worry that China may put an exorbitant price tag on any rescue. Still others claimed that it would be humiliating to seek help from China.

Yet people in China ask: how can China, with a per capita GDP of $4,000, help Europe, whose per capita is higher than $30,000?

China has no intention of seeking advantages through financial manipulation. China has endeavoured to help, by contributing resources to the IMF, purchasing European bonds, increasing imports and expanding investment in Europe to support job creation and growth. We see this as being in the interest of China as well.

More trust and closer co-operation is what is needed for Europe and China. Fearmongering will only hinder the potential for co-operation. Europe needs to come to terms with the two opposing forces at play in its perception of China: one that calls for co-operation, and the other that spreads fear and suspicion. This is reflected in the European media's view on China. Such a conflict will only hinder Europe's capacity to forge a consistent and effective China policy.

Drifting apart will hurt both of us. Our best option is to turn the crisis into a fresh opportunity to build a new partnership, based on three pillars.

First, equality and mutual respect. It took the west 300 years to industrialise and build a mature society with strong institutions. And even now serious inequalities and social tension remain. For China, a country with a population twice that of Europe, industrialisation is still a work in progress. What we need from the Europeans is understanding and a historical perspective. China, for its part, will accept reasonable criticisms from Europe for its own improvement.

Second, a strong commercial partnership. In the next five years, China will import $8trn worth of goods and its annual outbound investment is projected to top $100bn. Farsighted European business leaders are making efforts to grasp these opportunities. We should make things easier for our investors.

Third, people-to-people exchanges. The China-Europe Year of Youth in 2011 has helped young people from different countries deepen their mutual understanding and forge bonds of friendship. Next year, China and Britain will celebrate 40 years of full diplomatic ties. As we launch a high-level people-to-people dialogue, we have a unique opportunity to raise our educational and cultural links to a new level.

Our world is destined to continue its profound changes. China and Europe are at the far ends of the Eurasian continent, yet our shared destiny is as solid as the vast landmass that joins us. It is incumbent on us to develop a stable, lasting and co-operative partnership to the benefit of our peoples and the whole world.

By Fu Ying, Chinese ambassador to Britain from 2007 to 2009. She is now China's first woman vice foreign minister in 37 years, covering Europe in the foreign ministry.

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