Belgium inaugurates new embassy in Beijing
Prime minister Alexander De Croo and Foreign minister Hadja Lahbib inaugurated the new Belgian embassy building in Beijing on Thursday, in the presence of Chinese Foreign minister Wang Yi. The latter called on Belgium to act as a bridge, "to once again contribute to greater mutual understanding and deeper cooperation between China and Europe".
The last time a Belgian prime minister visited China was in 2016. Since then, the coronavirus pandemic and other issues have changed trade and relations between the EU and China.
"Eight years is too long. I hope the next visit will not take another eight years," De Croo said on his first mission abroad since Belgium took over the presidency of the Council of the European Union.
After the pandemic, the resumption of relations with China offers new opportunities for foreign companies, and the Chinese authorities are conducting a charm offensive to attract investors, observers have said. But the context remains problematic for Europeans: Chinese domestic demand has not picked up as hoped and the trade deficit between China and the EU is at a record level of 390 billion euros, of which Belgium's share is 27 billion euros. Europe also wants to defend its strategic sectors against China.
"I have no problem with Chinese companies coming to our country, but I think Belgian companies coming to China should be able to do so under the same conditions"
"This does not mean that we should favour isolationism; on the contrary. The last thing we should do is turn our backs on the world," said De Croo, who insisted on reciprocity in China-Europe trade. "I have no problem with Chinese companies coming to our country, but I think Belgian companies coming to China should be able to do so under the same conditions."
On the occasion of De Croo's visit, Chinese Foreign minister Wang Yi called on Belgium to act as a bridge between China and Europe.
"I hope that Belgian diplomats will continue to act as a bridge to tell China the story of a diverse Belgium, and Belgium and Europe the true story of China," he said. "To once again contribute to greater mutual understanding and deeper cooperation between China and Europe. If you succeed in this task, you can count on our support and help."
The diplomatic mission has a strong economic focus, with some 20 business leaders accompanying the prime minister in Beijing, representing companies such as Bekaert, Volvo, Solvay, the airports of Liege and Ostend, and the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge. "Belgium is one of the gateways to Europe for many Chinese products," De Croo said.
Belgian PM Alexander De Croo in Beijing, 11 January 2024 © BELGA PHOTO BENOIT DOPPAGNE