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Connecting Heart to Heart and Learning from Each Other to create a Better Future for the Chinese and European Civilisations
----- Speech by Vice Premier Liu Yandong at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel
2015-09-25 16:59

Dear President Eddie van Gade, State Secretary Cecil Jodoigne, Dear Professors, fellow students and friends:

Hello everyone! I would like to thank President Gade for your warm opening speech. I am very pleased to visit the prestigious Vrije Universiteit Brussel in the beautiful autumn days. First of all, on behalf of the Chinese Government, I would like to extend my sincere appreciation and best wishes to the students, academic professionals and those who have supported the long-term development of China-EU relations.

One of the founders of your University, Augusto Barron, once said that the guiding principle and spirit of the VUB should be ‘teaching students to dedicate their own ideas, efforts and talent to the wellbeing and progress of humanity’. For nearly two centuries, VUB has inherited and passed on the spirit of multiculturalism, as well as upheld the motto of ‘science against darkness’ and reached global recognition for its education and research excellence. Producing already five Nobel Prize laureates, VUB has been a cradle for European political and social elites. This university has also had earlier connections with China, being at the forefront of China-Western cultural exchange in modern times, by cultivating a number of Chinese intellectuals and scientists, including China’s Tong Dizhou, known as ‘the father of cloning’. To this day, your university has had cooperation agreements with nearly 20 Chinese universities. Last September, Commissioner Vassiliou and I jointly launched the ‘Brussels EUChina Research Institute’ between your university and its Chinese counterparts, Renmin University, Sichuan University and Fudan University. I hereby congratulate you on this great achievement!

Just now, two representatives from the think tanks on China-EU relations have given their respective speeches on the fruitful achievements of the seminars. I was greatly inspired, and it has also made me think further and become more confident about the future development of China-EU relations.

Dear Professors, fellow students and friends,

My visit to Europe this time is on the occasion of the Third EU-China High-Level People-to-People Dialogue, and I am here to deepen this friendly bilateral cooperation. Last March, President Xi Jinping was China’s first Head of State to visit the Headquarters of the European Union, as both sides committed to strengthen our partnerships of peace, growth, reform and civilization – that is, a strategic partnership with greater global influence. This June, Premier Li Keqiang attended the 17th China-EU Summit, during which he proposed to draw synergy from the strategic development of both sides, and to cooperate on international production capacity. The two leaders have also expressed their high expectations on deepening cultural exchanges with brand-new mission statements.

As the birthplaces of Eastern and Western Civilizations, China and the EU, despite being thousands of miles apart, have had a long history of cultural exchanges. 2000 years ago, the ‘Silk Road’ from the ancient city of Chang’An to Rome opened up an unprecedented civilizational dialogue. The ancient Roman Encyclopedia composer Mr. Pliny described a ‘country of silk’ and its ‘people of good nature and fine manners’ in his Natural History. The four Chinese inventions – papermaking, gunpowder, printing and compass – have profoundly influenced socio-cultural developments in Europe. More than 800 years ago, Marco Polo brought back to Europe his adventures in the East, setting off a wave of expeditions from Europe eastward. 400 years ago, the Confucian classics arrived in Europe and inspired great thinkers of its time such as Voltaire and Leibniz, thereby making a contribution to the Enlightenment. 100 years ago, Western democratic ideas and sciences became the beacon of hope for Chinese intellectuals to pursue national prosperity and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. A large number of aspiring young people went to study in Europe, which was a glorious chapter in the China-Europe civilizational dialogue. Looking back in history, the East and West met in hearts and mind in various cultural forms, the people have always cherished the good impression they had of each other, and have set a leading example for mutual learning, cooperation and win-win partnerships.

This year sees the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the EU. Over the last four decades, despite substantial changes on the international political scene, win-win cooperation has always been a defining trend of China-EU relations. Until this day, this relationship has become one of the world’s most important, stable, constructive and influential bilateral relationships. Both sides have established a comprehensive strategic partnership, followed by mechanisms for meetings among our respective leaders, consisting of a high-level strategic dialogue, a high-level economic and trade dialogue, and a high-level people-to-people dialogue. There is an all-round and multilevel open dialogue platform, facilitating the ‘China-EU Cooperation Agenda 2020’ with joint efforts. The EU has been China’s biggest trading partner for the last 11 years; China has also continuously been the EU’s second largest trading partner. The two-way trade volume has increased 250 times since the establishment of diplomatic relations, surpassing the USD600 billion threshold. Last year, the exchange of personnel amounted to nearly 600 million people. And there are more than 70 flights a day connecting the two ends of the Eurasian continent. The depth of the bilateral relationship, the number of achievements and scale of exchanges were unimaginable 40 years ago when diplomatic relations were established. We can say that ‘the seed of the relationship’ that was planted by the Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai and Baron Soames has now grown into a leafy and towering tree with enormous vitality.

Dear Professors, fellow students and friends,

40 years of friendly exchanges between China and Europe have sufficiently proven that mutual respect, mutual understanding and inclusiveness can be realized between different civilizations. Harmony and differences can coexist. Mutual learning does lead to mutual prosperity. Understanding each other therefore is the foundation for cooperation. China and Europe are both in a critical period of development and reform. In order to build a partnership of peace, growth, reform and civilization as well as more equality, we must respect and appreciate each other more, because seeking common ground requires keeping an open mind.

Historically, China has a splendid civilization, which has been uninterrupted for 5,000 years. The characters that our ancestors created thousands of years ago are still in use today. More than 2000 years ago, China had a vibrant intellectual scene where Lao Tzu, Confucius, Mencius, Mo and other thinkers held grand debates and discussions about the world of astronomy, geography and philosophy of life. During the long history of cultural evolution, Chinese civilization has developed its distinctive features and a sophisticated and profound system of thought. Many concepts such as filial piety, faithfulness, honesty, honor, benevolent love, kindness, heaven, imitation of nature, self improvement have been passed down through generations until this day, creating the unique spiritual world of the Chinese people as well as the cultural genes of the Chinese nation. In modern times, the Chinese people have gone through untold sufferings. Barely a century later, after persistent and unyielding struggles, the Chinese people finally took control of their own fate and defended the achievements of the 5000-year old Chinese civilization.

Contemporary China is full of vigor and vitality. Since the founding of the new China, especially after the reform and opening up 30 years ago, China’s modernization has made remarkable progress. Not only has China found its own development path, it has also made a formidable contribution to the world. Compared to 1978, China’s GDP in 2014 had increased 19-fold, and its total import and export had grown 203 times. In this same period, 600 million people were lifted out of poverty. Nonetheless, China today remains a developing country, its GDP per capita is only $7,600, ranking China merely 80th in the world. The social and economic problems associated with unbalanced, uncoordinated and unsustainable development are significant. According to the World Bank standards, China still has more than 100 million people in poverty. It would still take a long and arduous effort for China to bring all of its 1.3 billion people into modernity. Today, the Chinese people are in the process of realizing their ‘Chinese Dreams’, as they are striving for better education, more stable jobs, better income, more reliable social protection, a higher level of health care, more pleasant living conditions and a more beautiful environment. We therefore insist on putting development first, prioritizing the improvement of people’s livelihood. We implement a development strategy that is innovation-driven, promoting green development, recycling development, low-carbon development, and encouraging the public to engage in entrepreneurship and innovation. In such a way, we hope to upgrade the economy into a higher value chain with a medium to high speed growth rate. We also adhere to deepening economic, political, cultural, social, ecological reforms through structural reforms and adjustments. That is to say, by liberalizing the market using the ‘invisible hand’, in combination with the government’s role – ‘the visible hand’. We comprehensively promote the rule of law, aiming at developing a broader, more sufficient and more robust democracy, safeguarding social fairness and justice, and modernizing China’s governance system and capacity.

A developing China also means a more open and inclusive China. China’s development owes much to the world, and in return, it has brought opportunities for many countries, contributing to the prosperity and stability of the world. China’s open door will increasingly widen, as from development we move towards more transparency, fairness, standardization and predictability. We will always pursue an opening up strategy based on win-win cooperation, and unswervingly practice peaceful development, promote mutual development, safeguard the multilateral trading system, and contribute to global governance in order to realize mutual development and prosperity. China is now actively building a new system of open economy – we are gradually relaxing the investment access restrictions, accelerating the construction of free trade zones, and expanding the open borders for investment in inland areas. In the next five years, Chinese imports will reach more than 10 trillion US dollars and more than 500 million outbound tourism trips will be made abroad. China has proposed the 21st century Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road as joint cooperation initiatives, which have received positive responses from the countries along these routes as well as international organizations. The establishment of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, for instance, has already made some substantial progress. ‘One Belt One Road’ stretches across the Eurasian Continent: to the southeast, it connects the Asia Pacific economic zone; to the west, it extends into the European economic zone. Therefore, it effectively brings together two economic ‘zones’, which will certainly revitalize the ancient Silk Road in the new era. China is indeed on way to realizing the Chinese dream. Not only do these initiatives benefit the Chinese people, they also benefit people of all countries.

As always, China advocates harmony in differences, whereas the EU emphasizes ‘unity in diversity’ - both principles are of the same nature. We are pleased to see that in recent years the European Union has been implementing some large-scale investment schemes, pushing forward the ‘energy union’, a single digital market, deepening economic and monetary integration – all of which aim at enhancing the competitiveness of the European Union and realizing the dream of European people who long for lasting peace and prosperity. Not long ago, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Europe in an effort to promote greater synergy between the two development strategies. The two sides issued a joint declaration on climate change, promising to strengthen the role of dialogue and communication in international negotiations on climate change, and pushing for a new agreement for the Paris Conference. We believe, as long as we work alongside each other, and can benefit from each other’s achievements, we are able to build the bridge of friendship and cooperation across the Eurasian continent.

Dear Professors, fellow students and friends,

This is the time of interdependence. More and more countries now have shared interests and destinations. Standing at a new starting point in history, cultural exchanges have become more important than ever, and fundamental to the comprehensive China-EU strategic partnership.

First, we need to deepen cultural exchanges, as a partnership for peace would unite the people. This year is the 70th anniversary of the victory of the world anti-fascist war and the founding of the United Nations. 70 years ago, all the countries and people who pursued peace and justice fought the bloody wars together. It is the tragedy of this war that prompted the Europeans to learn from their mistakes and seek reconciliation through unity. China was Asia’s major battlefield in the WWII; the Chinese people’s anti-Japanese war was the earliest as well as the longest. Between 1931 and 1945, the 14 years of arduous struggle with more than 35 million casualties was a painful sacrifice for the world’s victory of the anti-fascist war. This year, European countries have celebrated this victory in various forms. More than 10 days ago, China held a historic military parade together with many other commemorative activities in Beijing, which 50 countries and 10 international organizations attended. The aim of such events is to remind us of history, commemorate our heroes, cherish peace, and look to the future. At this critical time in our history, safeguarding peace and promoting development has become the aim of all people around the world. China and Europe have no geopolitical disputes nor fundamental conflicts of interests. We do not constitute a threat for each other. The two sides should regard each other as forces of peace, opportunities for development, and thus lead the path to peaceful development, promoting a new style of international relations based upon win-win cooperation. The concept of peace would then enjoy popular support in the hearts and minds of our peoples.

Second, deepening the cultural exchanges can generate people power, which strengthens our partnership. China and the EU make up one quarter of the world’s population and one third of the global GDP. Once the two markets are connected, they will release tremendous potential and opportunities. China and the EU should sufficiently mobilize their civil groups, jointly manage the giant Eurasian market and build a grand connection across the continent. Not only does this add impetus to each other’s development, but it also stimulates vitality in the world economic recovery.

Third, deepening cultural exchanges generates wisdom from people and creates partnerships for reform. China is undergoing a comprehensive reform which encourages entrepreneurship and innovation amongst its people; the EU on the other hand is undertaking its own reforms and adjustment. Both sides should respect each other’s reform path, learn from one another’s best practices, share resources for innovation, conduct joint research projects and mutually improve governance.

Fourth, deeper cultural exchanges also construct and consolidate public opinion for a partnership of civilizations. An old Chinese proverb goes: ‘far in distance, close at heart’. Although the two civilizations are separated by thousands of miles, they are capable of staying close in spirit, despite their differences in the way of doing things. The two sides should therefore explore the full potential of the High-Level People-to-People dialogue, insist on combining official and public initiatives, broaden the range of participants, reach out to the grass-root level, be inclusive, deepen cooperation in the areas of education, science, and cultural, media, youth and women and think tanks, and increase the scale and frequency of personnel exchanges. This indeed would enhance the social foundation of this friendship and cooperation.

The future of China-EU relations lies in the hands of the youth. The seeds of peace and friendship are most likely to take root in the hearts of our young people. We should take full advantage of the platform created by the High-Level People-to-People Dialogue and expand the scale of exchanges amongst students, academics and youth from all walks of life. Through this platform, the young people of China and the EU can develop mutual understanding, learn from each other and formulate friendships, so that this China-EU friendly exchange can sustain itself and live on. Universities are the major force at work in this cultural exchange, and joint education programs and research projects should be further strengthened in order to provide the relevant intellectual support for the win win cooperation between the two sides and spark the inspiration which facilitates mutual learning and exchanges amongst diverse cultures.

Dear professors, fellow students and friends,

Belgium is known as ‘the heart of Europe’. China and Belgium established diplomatic relations 44 years ago, and this bilateral relationship has since made great progress. Not long ago, King Philip chose China to be the destination for his first state visit since ascending to the Crown. And this is already his ninth visit to China, making him the Monarch who has visited China the most frequently in Europe. Belgium was the first Western country to have provided government loans to China and was also among the first to export advanced technology and establish an industrial investment economy in China. Bilateral trade, since the founding of diplomatic relations, has increased more than 1,000 times, making Belgium the sixth largest trading partner China has in the EU. In the last five years, China’s direct investment in Belgium has grown close to 10 times. The exchange of personnel is becoming increasingly frequent, with many noticeable examples of cooperation. The successful ‘Europalia-China Art Festival’ is amongst a series of such cultural exchanges, which have now become attractions in their own right.

As we all know, Belgium is home to the Smurfs. And in the world of China-Belgium educational exchanges, there is an active ‘white-haired Smurf’, that is, the Vice-Chancellor of your University Professor Jan Cornelis. In 1992, Professor Jan Cornelis visited the Northwestern Polytechnical University for the first time, and he has established close ties with China ever since. Over the last twenty years, he has jointly supervised more than 40 Masters’ students, co-authored more than 60 journal articles, and contributed to the deepening of education and personnel training, scientific research and technology transfer between the two universities. Consequently, Brussels and Xi’an have twinned-up and become sister cities. Last year, he was given the ‘Friendship Award’ by the Chinese Government, which is China’s highest honor awarded to foreign experts. Let us congratulate Professor Yan Cornelis again for his contribution and achievement!

Dear Professors, fellow students and friends,

The Chinese people often say that friends walk closer as they advance along the way. There are many envoys of friendship like Professor Jan Cornelis amongst us. And it is these cascades of cultural exchanges that merge into the spectacular river of friendship and cooperation between China and Belgium, and between China and Europe. Let us join hands and efforts for a better future for China-EU relations.

Thank you all!

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