China's EU Ambassador Urges Europe to Agree to New Economic Ties Despite Calls for Coronavirus Probe

China's ambassador to the EU has called on the bloc to forge ahead with a planned investment deal, even as Western nations re-evaluate their ties with the Chinese government following the coronavirus pandemic.

Zhang Ming, the head of China's mission to the EU, said Wednesday in an article published by the Brussels Times and Euroactiv that the coronavirus pandemic has made EU-Chinese relations even more important. The article was published on the 45th anniversary of the establishment of Chinese-EU diplomatic ties.

"The COVID-19 has posed unprecedented health, economic and social challenges to the whole international community, including China and the EU," Zhang wrote. "This crisis has prompted us to carefully think about how to keep our economies and societies resilient, how to promote harmonious coexistence between man and nature, and how to steer globalization in the right direction."

"To find the answers, it is more important than ever to keep the China-EU relations in good shape," he added. "In face of the pandemic, China and the EU choose to work together in solidarity. This illustrates once again that we are partners that need each other."

European leaders including Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas have called for an international investigation into the origins and spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The virus originated in the central Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading worldwide, to date infecting more than 3.7 million people and killing more than 264,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Chinese officials have been accused of trying to cover up the initial outbreak and failing to adequately warn the international community of the danger. Beijing has also reportedly underreported the number of infections and deaths in the country.

The virus is believed to have spread from a wildlife market in Wuhan, originating in bats before possibly jumping to humans via an intermediary animal like the pangolin.

Others—including President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo—have claimed the disease escaped from a research laboratory in the city. They have not provided any evidence to support the assertion, and researchers and intelligence officials are still trying to establish the course of the outbreak.

On Wednesday, China's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva said Beijing would not support an international probe until "final victory" had been won in the fight against the virus. Chen Xu also said that such an investigation would have to take place in the "right atmosphere" and criticized the "absurd" politicization of the pandemic.

Regardless, lawmakers in the West are now pushing leaders to re-evaluate diplomatic and economic ties with China, for example by reclaiming supply chains for medical equipment. In the U.S., Trump and Pompeo have even hinted at repercussions for China.

Zhang wrote Wednesday that it would be a mistake for the EU and China to decouple because of the pandemic. "Interdependence is not outdated, neither decoupling nor self-isolation offers a way out," he claimed.

"China will not stall its efforts to deepen reform and expand opening-up," Zhang said. "We hope that the EU and other global partners will join us in safeguarding an open environment for global cooperation, upholding the multilateral trading system and keeping global supply chains stable."

This year was set to be a pivotal one for EU-Chinese relations. Brussels and Beijing were negotiating an investment treaty before the pandemic began, hoping to sign the deal in September when President Xi Jinping was to take part in an EU summit in Leipzig, Germany in September.

The coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent diplomatic tensions could damage the chances of a deal. Last month, the EU accused China of peddling disinformation about the coronavirus designed to undermine Western governments. Beijing angrily rejected the allegations.

Nonetheless, Zhang said he was confident that a deal could still be reached. "We look forward to concluding a high-level and balanced investment agreement between China and the EU," he wrote.

EU Ambassador to China Nicolas Chapuis and the ambassadors of the 27 EU states published a joint letter on Wednesday, suggesting that cooperation with Beijing "will be even more important" in the age of coronavirus.

"We will need more trade and investment on both sides, so a swift conclusion of negotiations on the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment will be crucial to this end," they argued.

But the EU said Thursday that the letter—published on the EU mission website and by the Chinese Communist Party-run China Daily newspaper—was censored in the Chinese press.

The censored passage read: "But the outbreak of the coronavirus in China, and its subsequent spread to the rest of the world over the past three months, has meant that our pre-existing plans have been temporarily side-tracked."

According to The South China Morning Post, the EU agreed for the passage to be removed from the English-language version but wanted it included in the Chinese version published by China Daily.

Virginie Battu-Henriksson, EU spokesperson on foreign affairs, told the Post: "The EU delegation to China made known its concerns to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in no uncertain terms, both on the process and on the request to remove part of a sentence related to the origins and spread of coronavirus to allow publication."

"We regret that the [article] was not published in full by the China Daily," she said.

China, Europe, EU, investment, economic, coronavirus, trade
This file photo shows the Chinese and European Union flags during a summit the European Union Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium on June 29, 2015. THIERRY CHARLIER/AFP via Getty Images/Getty