With the EU-China summit currently taking place in Brussels, GUE/NGL hosted a conference on China’s ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative earlier this week to examine the commercial and the many other challenges facing both the EU and China.
The conference included contributions from MEPs, as well as those from the China Mission to the EU, academics and sinologists, with GUE/NGL MEPs expressing support but also caution for the ambitious plans to revive the old Silk Road between China and Europe by land and sea - in particular on the environmental impact which now has added urgency in light of Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord.
Opening the event, Vice President of the European Parliament and Greek MEP Dimitrios Papadimoulis was in no doubt about the importance of EU-China ties:
"EU-China relations are of strategic importance to both sides. The EU and China are two of the world's four largest economies - along with the United States and India. Further strengthening of these relations is essential and must be based on mutual interests."
"It is important that the EU and China have signed the Paris climate accord. This is even more urgent today given Donald Trump’s announcement last night that he is pulling the US out of the Paris agreement," said the Greek MEP.
For German MEP and long-time China observer Helmut Scholz, he said that the GUE/NGL conference should be regarded as a useful contribution to this week’s EU summit with China, stressing:
"I welcome the reinforced commitment of the European Union and China to jointly tackle climate change. Let us give this a practical dimension."
“Europe should not remain a bystander in the ‘One Belt, One Road’ vision initiated by China. We should join one of the most important development initiatives in the world with constructive engagement and our environmentally-advanced technology.”
“It is an opportunity to cooperate with China and other countries along both overland and the maritime Silk Roads as partners to improve not only much-needed infrastructure, but also environmental standards, and labour rights and conditions,” he added.
“It could therefore also boost and deepen the understanding of the participating countries in shaping and developing a respective rules based framework, and to enable the active inclusion of citizens and parliaments as their political representatives in these processes not only today but also in future," concluded Scholz.
Spanish MEP Lola Sánchez Caldentey was the moderator for a discussion on finding new economic, ecological and social alternatives on the three-way trade policies between the EU, US and China, and warned Europe not to be blinded by Chinese success and to ignore the environment:
"Over the last 30 years, 500 million people have been lifted from poverty in China. It is one of the biggest successes in the story of humanity, and it must inspire us in our relations with China. But it doesn’t mean that we should be naive about the cooperation between the European Union and China.”
“We face many common problems: a severe environmental crisis, growing inequality and unemployment amongst others. Lobbies operate in China as they do in the European Union, and the impunity of transnational corporations is as harmful for the Chinese people and the environment as it is for Europeans,” she argued.
“That is why, of course, we must promote cooperation with China, and the ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative as a useful channel for cooperation but also, as the European Left, to use our influence to make sure that this cooperation benefits the people, and reduces inequality instead of creating it," Sánchez Caldentey added.
Italian MEP Eleonora Forenza also focussed on the environmental implications of the EU’s commercial links with China:
“So, we are committed to another trade policy and yet more globalisation. In our opinion, trade should strive to ensure respect for human rights and the environment because otherwise, it is just another tool for the exploitation of people.”
“As such, in the trading relations between China and the European Union, we must work towards a relationship that is in the interest of workers and local communities, women and consumers,” said Forenza.