Cooperation has much more to offer than hostility
The mood I felt during my visit to Spain and Portugal the past week was quite different from the months covering the contentious China-US trade conflict before I was posted to Brussels in early November. The message from European officials and pundits is largely centered on how to expand and elevate cooperation with China, just as the Chinese often say: make a bigger cake so everyone has a bigger slice.
A Spanish national who has advised his government was excited about the fastgrowing number of Chinese tourists visiting Spain as well as the many Chinese students studying in Spanish universities in recent years. He also bet that Spanish wine－good quality and reasonably priced－should have a promising market in China.
Since most Chinese tourists visiting Spain arrive not in summer, but during China's National Day holiday week in early October and Spring Festival holiday, which falls either in late January or February, they have helped make the once "slow tourism season" not that slow anymore.
Just days before my visit to Madrid, a friend in Shanghai had returned to China after a group sightseeing tour across Spain and Portugal. She posted "multiple findings" on WeChat Moments, from cathedrals, Flamenco dance and olive trees in Spanish cities and the countryside to the fascinating maze of cobbled and narrow alleys in Alfama district and seaside Cape Roca in Lisbon. She seemed overflowing with excitement after learning about the two beautiful countries.
That was my feeling, too, after chatting with Portuguese students learning the Chinese language and culture at the Confucius Institute in the University of Lisbon. I had tried very hard to learn Portuguese years ago to prepare for a possible posting to Sao Paulo, Brazil, but that was not to be.
Learning Chinese is no easy job for foreigners, yet those students at the University of Lisbon are undaunted. Some have made plans to study in China next summer while some others said they wanted to go to China in the coming years.
There is too much toxic rhetoric these days, including demonizing student and other academic exchanges between China and other countries. Unilateralism, trade protectionism, as well as tariff and trade wars are some other deeply troubling phenomena haunting the world today.
However, what I heard during my visit to Spain and Portugal from people such as former NATO secretary general Javier Solana and former Spanish prime minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was their strong endorsement for multilateralism and rules-based free global trade system.
It was touching when Solana, also a former Spanish foreign minister, praised China for being very generous during the 2008 global financial crisis. Another speaker at the same forum in Madrid highlighted China's responsible behavior during the 1997 Asian financial crisis when it did not devalue its currency. Those were indeed touching moments because blind accusations against China have become common in some countries today.
I am not saying there have been no differences between China and Spain or Portugal or other European states. Differences and disagreements between countries are to be expected, just like there are differences and disagreements between countries within the European Union or even among regions within any one country. But that does not mean they should treat each other like enemies, as exhibited by some Western politicians in their hostile attitude toward China.
Eugenio Bregolat, a three-time Spanish ambassador to China, told me that dialogue is the right way to solve problems. He described the existing issues between China and Europe as (non-antagonistic) contradictions among the people, not (antagonistic) contradictions between people and enemy.
He was quoting Mao Zedong.
The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels. firstname.lastname@example.org