BRUSSELS/LISBON – A senior Chinese diplomat has described the relationship between China and Portugal as “a model”, saying that one of the secrets of that is mutual respect.

“Portugal shows great respect to China, and China shows even greater respect to Portugal. Both of us never intervene in each other’s internal affairs. I think this is one of the secrets,” said Zhang Ming, the head of the Chinese Mission to the European Union (EU).

Portugal was maybe one of the last European countries to establish diplomatic relationships with China at the end of the 1970s, but since then, the China-Portugal bilateral relationship has been developing smoothly, fast and friendly, Zhang said.

The diplomat made the remarks on Saturday in an interview with Portuguese media outlets in Brussels, as Portugal holds the six-month rotating presidency of the Council of the EU as of Jan. 1.

Describing the China-EU relations as “crucially important,” Zhang said both sides were “happily surprised and proud to find that 2020 saw a strong growth of China-EU relations.”

In 2020, the high-level exchanges between China the EU were more frequent than never before. The two sides signed an agreement on geographical indications, which, Zhang said, will come into force on March 1 2021. On Dec. 30 2020, the two sides announced the completion of the investment agreement negotiations as scheduled.

The China-EU relations are advancing against all odd, and China and the EU have rich agenda in 2021. “Opportunities feature more prominently” than challenges, he said.

In 2021, the two sides will make sustained efforts to promote high-level exchanges, push for the follow-up procedures of the China-EU investment agreement, coordinate the COVID-19 response on both health and economic fronts, step up green and digital cooperation, and strengthen multilateral governance, Zhang said.

“We hope that Portugal, as the holder of the (EU) rotating presidency, could give a push to teams from both sides. We hope that ideally in the first half of this year, we could sign the investment agreement,” he said.

China and the EU “are going to have the legal scrubbing and translation. And this is not about restarting the negotiations. We are just sorting out the details and finalizing the details… After the legal scrubbing, the text will be submitted for ratification,” he added.

The diplomat is confident of the prospects of the China-EU relationship. First, China and the EU have shared interests and need each other as partners.

Second, he said both sides are aware of their shared responsibilities in regard to safeguarding world peace and prosperity, upholding multilateralism and improving global governance.

Third, both sides have a shared commitment to cooperation and dialogue. “We are committed to promoting cooperation, and resolving or managing differences through dialogues rather than confrontation. We reject any destructive attempt to poison international relations,” Zhang said.