Péter Szijjártó, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, said in Brussels on Monday that cooperation with China presents a “huge opportunity”, rather than a risk, for the European Union, insisting that the risk would be severing economic ties between the two entities.
Addressing a press conference after a meeting of the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council, Minister Szijjártó expressed hope that the bloc would not take an ideological approach to its relations with China but “take reality into consideration”. Annual bilateral trade turnover between the EU and China is 860 billion euros, he said, according to a ministry statement, stressing that cutting these ties would present “a huge problem for the European economy”. “We believe that cooperation with China is not a risk,” Szijjártó said. “The risk is actually if someone wanted to sever this cooperation. We think cooperation with China presents a huge opportunity.” The minister noted that China now has the world’s second-largest economy by GDP, having overtaken the EU last year. While a decade ago China accounted for 9% of global GDP and the EU 22%, China’s share has increased to 18% and the EU’s has fallen to 17, he added. “This shows that cooperation with China is in our interest because if we can cooperate with a faster-growing region or country, that will also drive and develop our economy,” Szijjártó said. He said the biggest European companies also favoured “the rational path” of cooperation because this was what was economically worthwhile. On the topic of Bulgaria’s plan to raise its gas transit fee, Szijjártó said that while every country had a sovereign right to decide where it procures energy from, it did not have a right to endanger the energy supply of other countries, which was what he said Sofia’s plan would entail for Hungary, Serbia and North Macedonia. He said the measure would also go against EU regulations, arguing that only the bloc could decide on the imposition of customs and other import duties. Meanwhile, Szijjártó expressed disappointment over the failure to reach an agreement with the United States on the abolition of import tariffs on EU steel and aluminium. “Some here have accepted that the reason for this is that there’s a [US] presidential election next year, but I don’t think we should accept such an argument,” Szijjártó said. “So we ask the European Commission to take a firmer stand on European economic interests and help remove the tariffs imposed on European steelworks by the US administration.”