The start of }each new year is a time to reflect on the year just past and make plans for the future. The coronavirus has disrupted our lives, devastated the economy, taking a heavy toll on all societies. But as the ancient Greek philosopher Xenophon once said, suffering teaches men to be patient and strong. With the lessons drawn and forceful actions taken by governments in response to the pandemic, we have reasons to look forward to a better year for all.
What we have learned over the passing months is that solidarity and partnership are the only solution to common challenges. Whether it’s the provision of medical supplies, research on testing kits or the compilation of diagnosis and treatment protocols, they all point to the importance of international cooperation. The successful development of vaccines with unprecedented speed was only made possible by sharing the genome sequence of 2019-nCoV as early as in January 2020. China has been in the lead in the research of Covid-19 medicine and vaccines. Fifteen Chinese vaccines are currently in clinical trial, out of which five are at the end of Phase III. All trials are carried out with international cooperation. China has also joined the COVAX facility, a platform on which we will share vaccines with other countries. In this global fight against the pandemic, China and Greece have played a positive and exemplary role, with our traditional friendship further strengthened through mutual support and assistance.
The world economy, severely hit by the pandemic, has shown strong signs of resilience. Since last July, China has become the EU’s largest trading partner, with total volume of $581.3 billion in the first 11 months, an increase of 3.5%. During the same period, the China-Europe Railway Express ran at full capacity from central China to Duisburg, Germany, and carried 927,000 containers, registering a 54% increase year on year. If we look close, the Piraeus Port container terminal has basically maintained its container turnover and will remain the largest port in the Mediterranean and fourth largest in Europe. This increase of trade volume has greatly contributed to Europe’s efforts to control the pandemic and recover the economy. And contrary to the expectation of those who advocated for “economic decoupling,” total trade volume between China and US increased by 5.8%, reaching $524.3 billion.
Furthermore, economic integration is high on the agenda of most countries. Two days ago, China and the EU jointly announced the conclusion of negotiations on the bilateral investment agreement. This historic pact, achieved after seven years of hard talks, will usher in a new era for the China-EU partnership. The past year has also seen the two sides sign the agreement on cooperation and protection of geographic indications (GIS) and establish high-level dialogues on environmental and digital cooperation. Last November, China and 14 Asian-Pacific countries including Japan and South Korea entered into the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which, once ratified, will be the world’s largest free trade zone. China has also stated its intention to join the CPTPP, another bold move to integrate itself deeply into the global economy and the international system.
2021 will be a milestone year for China as it will mark the adoption and implementation of the new development model featuring domestic circulation as the mainstay and domestic and international circulations reinforcing each other. China will redouble efforts to expand domestic demand. Today, China already has a super-sized domestic market with a 400 million-strong middle income population. With the total eradication of extreme poverty throughout the country by 2021, the domestic market will further unlock its potential. The upward trajectory for higher living standards, better living conditions, better education for children, and unique cultural and traveling experiences, will be a strong driving force for the economy. It has been estimated that China’s total import value of goods will exceed $22 trillion in the coming decade. This will create vast opportunities for the entire world.
China will follow a new development philosophy featuring innovative, coordinated, green, open and shared growth. The country is undergoing deep reform across the board and promoting innovation in science and technology. For the past decades, China has succeeded in putting the infrastructure in place, building the largest network of roads, highways, railroads and high-speed trains. Now it is speeding up construction of “smart infrastructure” such as AI and 5G. As one of the pioneers in 5G technology, China has built and opened more than 600,000 5G base stations and the number of 5G network users has exceeded 200 million. Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen and a large number of smaller cities have been fully covered by 5G signals. At the same time, China is totally committed to sustainable development. Recently, a very bold package of sustainable development targets was announced by President Xi Jinping. Namely, China’s carbon dioxide emissions will peak in 2030, its carbon dioxide emission intensity will be reduced by over 65% from the 2005 level, the share of non-fossil fuel in primary energy consumption will increase to around 25%, with the total installed capacity of wind and solar power reaching over 1.2 billion kilowatts. When China sets the target, it will be met.
To have domestic and international circulations reinforcing each other, China will open its doors even wider to the outside world by deepening all-round reform, improving its businesses environment, strengthening protection of intellectual property and further advancing trade and investment liberalization and facilitation. Since the beginning of 2020, the Foreign Investment Law has been well in effect. The negative list for foreign investment has been greatly reduced. Access to the service sector and financial markets has been eased gradually. These measures will turn the country into a market for the world and a market easily accessible to all.
Looking back on this tumultuous year, China and Greece have jointly fought the pandemic bravely and effectively, making our partnership stronger than ever. Our bilateral cooperation and exchanges have kept on going forward. Both sides are exploring new opportunities to invest in and collaborate with each other. More Greek products are on the Chinese market and more Chinese visitors view Greece as their next tourism destination. Thus, the Year of Culture and Tourism (from May 2021 to May 2022) has come at the right moment. It will present an excellent opportunity for two ancient civilizations to meet and for all of us to learn from each other through deeper appreciation of our past, present and future, thus further fostering the warm, friendly and productive relations.
Next year will be the Year of the Bull. In the ancient Chinese tradition, the bull symbolizes strength, bravery and perseverance. As we are still grappled with the crisis, these are the qualities we need to win the battle against the pandemic, achieve economic recovery and long-lasting development. From that perspective, the new year would seem to portend better times ahead.
Zhang Qiyue is ambassador to Greece for the People’s Republic of China.