High-level and cultural exchanges, as well as greater land, sea and air connectivity, have done wonders for bilateral cooperation which has unlimited potential
When I arrived in Belgium last September, on being appointed the 16th Chinese ambassador there, many friends told me the timing was perfect. I couldn't agree more. Despite the long distance and huge differences in national conditions and cultures, the two countries' relationship is at its best in history.
China and Belgium have had endless high-level exchanges since establishing diplomatic ties in 1971.In 2014, during Chinese President Xi Jinping's historic state visit to Belgium, bilateral ties were elevated to an all-round partnership of friendly cooperation. King Philippe of Belgium has made many friendly visits to China. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has visited Belgium four times since 2015, injecting new vitality to bilateral pragmatic cooperation across the board.
Belgium is China's seventh-largest trading partner in the European Union. In 2018, the bilateral trade volume reached $26 billion, almost 1,250 times what it was in the early days of their diplomatic ties. By 2018-end, Belgian businesses had invested $2 billion into China's chemical, pharmaceutical and electronic equipment sectors.
Over the past few years, Chinese businesses have vigorously explored the European market. Their investment in Belgium has increased steadily, totaling $660 million by the end of 2018, making it China's 11th largest foreign direct investment destination in the EU.
Chinese businesses have upheld the principle of globalization and localization in their overseas expansions. The Volvo factory in Ghent registered a considerable increase in production levels after it was acquired by Chinese auto manufacturer Geely. It also won the third Lifetime Achievement Trophy designed by Flanders Investment&Trade, which rewards foreign investors for their commitment to the Flanders region.
Belgium was also the first country to establish an industrial cooperation fund with China: In 2004, the China-Belgium Direct Equity Investment Fund was established to actively make investments in small-and medium-sized enterprises. In 2007, the two countries established the Belgium-China Direct Equity Investment Fund, providing a new financing platform for Chinese businesses investing in Belgium. In 2016, the two countries' central banks signed a memorandum of understanding to facilitate renminbi payments between the two countries.
Land, sea and air connectivity between China and Belgium under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative is progressing across the board. Since 2017, the China-Europe direct rail freight service has linked the northeastern Chinese city of Daqing to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, and the central Chinese city Zhengzhou to Liege, greatly shortening transportation time and cutting business operation costs.
China COSCO Shipping Corporation Limited has increased investment in the Antwerp and Zeebrugge ports, with liners traveling between the two countries every week. Cargo throughput from China at the Antwerp port has increased markedly, making China its fifth largest customer.
Direct flights fly between Chinese cities of Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen and Brussels, facilitating people-to-people exchanges. There's news of the Shanghai Lingang Group establishing a modern industrial park in cooperation with the Zeebrugge Port. Also, Cainiao Network, the logistics arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba, plans to set up a cross-border e-commerce logistics center in cooperation with Liege Airport.
The Brussels Cultural Center has become a new platform for Sino-Belgian cultural exchanges. The Chinese Spring Festival Parade has been successfully held in Brussels, Ghent and Antwerp for four consecutive years, while six Confucius Institutes have been established in Belgium and over 50 Belgian schools offer Chinese language courses.
Thanks to 31 pairs of sister cities, exchanges between the two countries have been very active. There are nearly 500 inter-governmental technology cooperation projects. The first stage of the China-Belgium Technology Center will be put to use soon.
Belgium has seen the fastest rise in arrival of Chinese tourists. And its premium-quality chocolate and beer are widely acclaimed in China. The panda family at the Pairi Daiza zoo are like amity ambassadors.
In the 70th year of the founding of the People's Republic of China, China welcomes other countries to share its development dividends. President Xi has proposed the establishment of a community with a shared future for all mankind, which advocates multilateralism, international equality and justice and international cooperation.
As the Belt and Road Initiative advances, China is promoting higher-level opening-up. This November, China will hold the second China International Import Expo in Shanghai, facilitating businesses to enter the Chinese market.
A better-off and stronger China means more opportunities and closer cooperation. China's development won't pose any threat to any country. China looks forward to deepening mutually beneficial cooperation with Belgium to realize better and faster development of bilateral relations. The following principles should be followed to realize this goal.
First is mutual respect. China is the world's largest developing nation which implements socialism with Chinese characteristics while Belgium is a traditional Western developed country that implements Western-style democracy. We must understand such differences, seek common ground, respect each other's development path, deepen understanding and meet each other half way to truly become equal, mutually beneficial partners.
Second, win-win cooperation should be emphasized. China and Belgium should strengthen strategic aligning and policy coordination to fully tap the potential of economic and trade, financial, energy, technology, cultural and third-market cooperation and turn cooperation into tangible benefits. China has vowed to stick to reform and opening-up policies and welcomes more Belgian businesses in China. It is hoped Belgium will continue to provide a stable, open and transparent business environment for Chinese businesses in the country.
Third, the two sides should further strengthen communication. Both China and Belgium have a rich and profound culture and have a strong commitment to mankind's future and destiny. Both countries firmly support multilateralism and free trade, support an open world economy and oppose protectionism. As members of the UN Security Council, both countries are shouldering the responsibility of safeguarding international order and world peace and security. Under the current circumstance of complicated international situations, the two countries could contribute more to the world by strengthening communication and collaboration. Sino-Belgian cooperation has unlimited potential. With concerted efforts, the two countries' all-round partnership of friendly cooperation can be further developed to score more brilliant achievements, bringing more tangible benefits to the two peoples.
The author is Chinese ambassador to Belgium. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.