Can Denmark maintain and develop the strong diplomatic relation with China without compromising on democracy and human rights? Danish Ambassador to China Friis Arne Petersen gives his answer in this Q&A on the occasion of the 65 years anniversary.
1. How will you describe the development of the relationship between Denmark and China during your five years as Ambassador?
There has been a positive and unique development of the Sino-Danish bilateral relationship. President Xi Jinping described this result last year during our Queens State Visit with the following words: “Our Chinese–Danish ties are at an all-time high”. Another clear indicator of this is the large number of visits on ministerial level and higher levels between our countries. In the past five years alone, 49 Danish ministers have visited China and an equivalent number of Chinese ministerial level visits have been conducted in Denmark. We’ve had two State Visits between our two countries, one in 2012 by President Hu to Denmark and one in 2014 where President Xi Jinping invited our Queen. Our Danish Prime Minister has visited China twice the last three years. We mark the anniversary of the 65 years of diplomatic relations by developing a joint work program outlining the wide and deep cooperation in areas such as environment, energy, health, food, transport, maritime etc.
2. If you should point out three positive effects, the strengthened relationship have had for Denmark the past few years, what would you highlight?
First and foremost an increased number of government to government agreements during this period. We have never concluded so many important government agreements with China in such a period and it is also the biggest number of agreements that Denmark has concluded with any country in the world. So – secondly – as a consequence our cooperation has expanded deeper and wider in these new areas and in depth. Cooperation that we few years ago would not have imagined possible is now on its way, such as anti-corruption cooperation between the Danish Ombudsmand-institution and the Chinese authorities in this field, such as the Bureau of Letters and Call and Ministry of Supervision. Thirdly the growth of our bilateral economic interaction, not just trade but also investment. For example in the Food and Agriculture area, there’s been a steady increase in the number of signed agreements, creating market access and thus allowing new Danish food products to enter the Chinese market. The same goes for energy, environment and industrial areas like green shipbuilding where we have a cluster of marinetech companies that can be sub suppliers to Chinese shipyards of advanced technology.
3) China’s Ambassador in Denmark, Mr. Liu Biwei, has described the relationship with Denmark as something special. How come Denmark has achieved this status in China?
I attribute it to the history: Denmark was the first western country to recognize China in 1950 and Denmark was the first and so far only Nordic country to enter a comprehensive strategic partnership agreement with China in 2008. Finally Denmark is the only Nordic Baltic country that both enjoys this history with China, is a member of UN, NATO and the EU, has a very close cooperation with the US and is globally active for a long period of time. Some of the other Nordic countries have some of these characteristics but none of them fulfil them all like Denmark.
4. Looking at the differences between the two countries regarding democracy and human rights, what situations can be a challenge for the two countries in the years to come?
Denmark and China has clearly very different political systems and historical backgrounds. Today politicians from both sides understand this, and in the last 10-20 years there have been created a momentum in the bilateral relations despite of this. The globalization has made countries more constructive and realistic in their foreign policy approaches and more willing to seek the common ground in the future than to challenge the differences. Countries apparently realize that we are interdependent in today’s world and that there is much more that bind the countries together than separates them. A mutual concern for environmental issues, climate policies is a challenge to the whole world, a hope for more clean and healthy food products, interest to get better and better health care, wish for more transparent and accountable government and many other issues. By cooperating the world can come a longer way forward. A new area like culture is increasingly important to share and exchange. For example we have just had a very successful Danish Cultural Season in China and the interest for Chinese culture in Denmark has risen in the past years. So the World appears to be more concerned with these interdependencies and possible cooperation rather than conflict and exclusion.
5. Do you believe it is possible for Denmark to maintain and develop the strong diplomatic relation with China without compromising on democracy and human rights?
Denmark has both had an increase in our trade relationship with China as well as doubling our funding to human rights activities. These human rights initiatives have shown positive and concrete results through the years and confirm Denmark’s position as one of the leading countries in this area. So it is definitely possible to do both at the same time.