Kurz: Austrian EU Presidency to focus on China

Austria's Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz at the European Council meeting in Brussels, Belgium, 23 March 2018. [EPA-EFE/JULIEN WARNAND]

During its July-December EU Presidency, Austria wants to set its own focus on China. To prepare for this, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz paid a visit to the Middle Kingdom. EURACTIV Germany interviewed him in Vienna.

Austria’s leadership spent almost a week in China with a delegation composed of President Alexander van der Bellen, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, three ministers and a crowd of entrepreneurs.

EURACTIV.de asked Chancellor Kurz how he rates his state visit in retrospect and which conclusion he draws for Austria and Europe.

What made the strongest impression on you, during your visit to China?

China has a tremendous momentum and an economic growth of 6.5%. It is a very innovative country that is a pioneer in research and development. The visit was a success, and that fact that we could appear together with the Austrian president and ministers was very helpful. After all, contracts of €1.5 billion in total were secured.

Besides the official-sounding phrases, what has been one of your strongest personal experiences?

The meetings with Chinese entrepreneurs were impressive, on the sidelines of the Boao Forum (Jack Ma of Alibaba, as well as Baidu), they showed how fast China is moving forward in the area of digitisation and which challenges we have to expect in Europe.

What has remained of the promised market liberalisation?

The fact that President Xi has announced a further market liberalisation during the Boao Forum in Hainan in the past week is good and right. Now those announcements have to be put into practice, for example when it comes to free trade. We have an interest in the country meeting the standards it needs to meet. We would also like to see more rule of law in China.

How should the EU step up to China?

We still need an open dialogue and the closest possible cooperation, be it economic, cultural or political. China is an emerging superpower, both politically and economically. We therefore need to maintain the closest possible exchange while openly addressing areas where we disagree, such as the isolated Chinese market or human rights.

Which activities will Austria come up with under the umbrella of its upcoming EU presidency?

There is an ASEM summit on 18-19 October in Brussels, for which we will send out invitations. Prime Minister Li Keqiang already confirmed his participation. At the same time, the Austrian foreign ministry will set a focus on Asia as part of the Presidency, for example, in cooperation with ASEAN, to establish an international organisation of Southeast Asian states with which China also intends to work more closely.

Is the Silk Road project a chance or a risk?

The Austrian government basically supports this process. Therefore, Transport Minister Norbert Hofer also signed a letter of intent in Beijing. At the same time, it is important for us to work closely with our European partners to clarify outstanding issues together with China.

How does the Chinese leadership see the offer of North Korea, as well as the confrontation between the US and Russia?

As a permanent member of the UN Security Council and as a neighbour of North Korea, China is a very important diplomatic player on this issue. We regard it as positive that China has recently changed its position to some extent. There is now also a chance for North Korea to reconsider.

Background

In 1977, After the Cultural Revolution came to an end, an Austrian parliamentary delegation was among the first foreign guests that got an invitation from the new Chinese political leaders. At that time, Beijing was trying to open up the country and it started with careful foreign policy explorations.

China felt, according to the records of a traveller, as a leader of the Third World. The country was engaged in a war of words with the USSR because Beijing was unwilling to acknowledge Moscow's leadership in the communist world.

Then again, it wanted a strong Western Europe, even the European unification process, which gained more and more momentum and it even had an understanding of US involvement in Europe.

The Chinese industry was 'antediluvian' in its technical development. Timidly, especially because of the lack of hard currency, the expansion of trade relations began to take shape. The interest lied mainly in Western technology.

Forty years later, China is now on the cusp of becoming the world’s leading economic power. In the late 1970s, bicycles dominated the streetscape, agriculture was dominant – today cities are struggling with the exhaust fumes of cars and industries.

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