Hamzah Hussain

26th Feb, 2023. 09:20 am

Strengthening China-Belgium ties

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang emphasised on China’s readiness to deepen ties with Belgium while talking to Minister of Foreign Affairs Hadja Lahbib. Evidence suggests that elevating existing ties and building on the strategic partnership apolitically will prove to be mutually and globally beneficial.

Elevating the China-Belgium strategic partnership would prove to be mutually beneficial for both sides. As stated by Gang during a telephonic conversation with Lahbib, China stands ready to work with Belgium for greater development of bilateral relations. The relationship which dates back to 1971 and grew significantly in the 1980s can be further strengthened if both countries tap into agreed, mutual areas of cooperation which range from science and technology to innovation. Strong ties also contribute to global prosperity through the maintenance of global production and supply chains.

The key to deepening ties is to adopt a non-discriminatory approach and build on existing mutual understandings and trust. Both sides should support and encourage the entry of high-quality products into the Chinese market while work towards ensuring that Belgium provides a level-playing field with a fair and transparent corporate environment for Chinese companies to operate in. Strong trading ties should provide encouragement in this regard. In the first eight months of 2022 and despite the pandemic, bilateral trade exceeded $28.7 billion which amounts to a year-on-year increase of 14.3 per cent. Due to this exponential growth, stable global and industrial supply chains in the post-Covid recovery of the global economy were witnessed.

Bilaterally, evidence also points at how apolitical cooperation with China will benefit the Belgian economy. Projects such as the China Ocean Shipping (Group) Company at the container terminal in Zeebrugge alone created 360 local jobs, and is projected to create a further 100 in 2023. On the scientific and technological front, mechanisms such as the China-Belgium Innovation Dialogue and the Joint Commission on Science and Technology Cooperation are existing platforms to facilitate regular exchanges between ministers, chairmen and scientists to explore new models of cooperation and hold in-depth discussions on key areas ranging from life sciences, smart and sustainable cities to achieving Sustainable Development Goals. It is clear that increasing personnel exchanges as pointed out by Gang will benefit both sides immensely.

As the world witnesses increased interconnectivity, China and Belgium directly benefit from the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce, the leading business association for Brussels to conduct business with China. Established in 1980s, the BCECC looks to reap dividends from China’s open-door policy and explores investment tools for Belgian and European companies operating in China. There exist significant opportunities for Belgian companies in sectors such as environmental technologies to invest in China as well given China’s stance on carbon emissions, which is to ensure carbon neutrality by 2060 and ensuring that state policies are geared towards making cities more environmentally friendly while also reforming the energy market. This aligns with Belgian companies that are among global leaders in the clean-tech sector to benefit from mutual and meaningful investments that can achieve environmental goals.


In 2023, there also exists trilateral opportunities for Belgium, China and the developing world through the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) which can be capitalised on. Data clearly indicates that the BRI has been successful. In 2022, investments as a share of the initiative’s engagements reached record levels at 48 per cent from 29 per cent in 2021. Furthermore, the total volume of trade in goods between countries along the BRI route and China amounted to $11 trillion with two-way investments exceeding $230 billion. Similarly, cooperation under the BRI helps Belgian businesses involved in logistics, tourism, e-commerce and financial and professional services. Trade costs for Belgian businesses for example, and trade growth will exceed 10 per cent with train linkages being established with nearby countries such as Tilburg in the Netherlands, Lyon in France and Duisburg in Germany. Such rail freight lines allow Belgian companies to choose the most suitable logistics solutions for their companies.

To ensure that bilateral ties demonstrate a positive momentum towards development, it is also critical to manage differences with wisdom and foresight. Foreign Minister Gang spoke about avoiding politicisation and weaponization of economic and trade issues which is important for the smooth progression of the bilateral relationship as mutual concerns and interests should be accommodated through dialogue and deliberations. It is encouraging that Belgian Foreign Minister Lahbib stated that Belgium is averse to practices of decoupling and jeopardising supply chains while affirming that Brussels stands by the ‘One-China’ policy. The truth is that decoupling strategies offer nothing productive for bilateral relations and only jeopardise international trade and prosperity. Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Belgium and China over five decades ago, friendship and mutual trust have been defining features and hallmarks of the relationship. The key is to ensure continuity.

The importance of ties between Brussels and Beijing should never be understated. It is a key pivot for forging amiable ties between the world’s second largest economy and the most continental bloc on the planet. The dividends are immense and can prove to be a win-win situation for both populations which is precisely what countries across the world need.

It is clear that the China-Belgium bilateral relationship should be carried forward due to tangible benefits for both sides as well as the international community.

The writer is an Assistant Research Associate at IPRI