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José Manuel Durão Barroso
President of the European Commission
Peoples of yesterday, peoples of tomorrow: 35 years of EU/China relations
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Beijing, 30th April 2010
President Gu Binglin,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It's a great pleasure for me to be at Tsinghua University and have a chance to speak to all of you.
Tsinghua symbolises China's rich past and its bright future: it was here on the site of a former imperial garden that this campus was founded 99 years ago. Today it retains the graceful beauty of a Chinese garden even as it is dotted by shiny, high-tech buildings.
As you gear up to celebrate your 100th anniversary, you can take pride in being at the cutting edge of China's scientific and educational progress, leading the country in areas such as nanotechnology and renewable energy.
The European Union is happy to be associated with Tsinghua University through the EU-China Clean Energy Centre, which I inaugurated this morning.
My visit to China, the first during my second term as President of the European Commission, comes at an important moment in the history of EU-China relations, for two reasons:
First, because this very night President Hu Jintao, a Tsinghua alumnus, will inaugurate the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai - the first-ever Expo to feature a European Union pavilion outside the EU’s own territory. I consider this a visual symbol of the importance the EU attaches to relations with China.
Chinese people are rightly proud of hosting this event because it symbolises inter-cultural understanding, which I think will be a defining feature of the 21st century. So it is only natural that we should participate with you in this global event, to showcase the achievements of European integration.
The second reason why this visit is a timely one is because 2010 marks the 35th anniversary of the establishment of relations between the European Union and China.
The European Union has undergone remarkable changes since then. At that time, in 1975, the European Economic Community was made up of nine countries. Since then 18 more countries have joined the club and we have become a far more deeply integrated Union, with a single market and a common currency, the euro.
China too, has transformed beyond recognition, raising living standards and pulling hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and becoming a global economic player, following the reform and opening up policy launched by Deng Xiaoping.
During the last 35 years, the European Union has been a reliable partner. Our trade and economic cooperation has been an important contribution to China's development. We have also welcomed China's increased role on the world stage, through bodies like the World Trade Organisation, and more recently the G20.
China too, has consistently supported European integration, even before we established official relations. At the People's Congress of 13 January 1975 Premier Zhou Enlai declared that China was "helping the countries of Western Europe in their efforts to achieve unity".
So our partnership has been a stimulus for progress and a source of economic opportunities. These benefits are a result of good relations between leaders of course, and channelled through institutional mechanisms like our annual Summits and other dialogues.
I hope that, in the next 35 years, Europe and China will continue to support each other. To that end, I believe the moment is right to expand our cooperation in other areas.
A fundamental task is precisely to broaden and deepen cultural understanding by fostering people-to-people exchanges. For the success of our engagement depends on understanding - on holding an open dialogue, and learning about each other and from each another.
Transparency is essential for communication and mutual understanding.. We in Europe believe that freedom of expression and open internet access, for example, can go a long way in fostering such mutual understanding. After all, the internet is the most effective tool for disseminating ideas and information, and China is home to the world's largest population of internet users and the largest pool of human capital.
Aside from mutual understanding and respect, another key principle of our relationship should be complimentarily. What do I mean by this?
Our economies complement each other. Europe's consumers benefit from low-priced, quality Chinese exports. China, as a whole, profits from advanced European technologies and services, as well as management practices.
More generally, our overall strategic economic objectives overlap: our Europe 2020 strategy and your 12th Five Year Plan focus overwhelmingly on green growth and social justice.
I was pleased to hear that Premier Wen will increase efforts to attract foreign investment in China. I have no doubt that China stands to benefit from greater participation in the Chinese market by European companies, which are world leaders in developing the low carbon economy.
But China also recognises that achieving economic prosperity must be accompanied by efforts to promote social equity and justice.
Europeans also believe that equity and justice form the basis of social stability. That is why we developed welfare systems, which shelter citizens’ lives from market risks.
We are happy to share our experience and expertise in this field with China; the instruments for doing so are already in place.
This sort of mutual support is the essence of reciprocity, a fundamental tenet in European and Chinese ethics alike, which should be the third key principle of EU/China relations, alongside mutual understanding and complementarity.
Beyond our bilateral cooperation, the European Union and China must work together in a globalized world.
Events over the last year have shown the urgent need for both sides to improve understanding and cooperation on critical global issues. A world that faces many threats and challenges needs both Europe and China to be globally engaged.
Europe, for its part, has not stood still in the face of recent challenges.
As the worst crisis since the Great Depression hit our economies in 2008, the EU has stood by its G20 pledge to keep its markets open. The EU remains an open economy. We are the world’s largest importer and exporter, as well as the largest source and destination of foreign investment.
But the crisis has given rise to wider protectionist pressures in the global economy. As two of the world's largest economies, the European Union and China have an interest and a duty not only to resist protectionism, but to continue to open our markets further.
In addition, we have a shared interest in tackling the twin challenges of energy security and climate change.
Both Europe and China take these challenges very seriously.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that we must do something about emissions of greenhouse gases. If we continue with business as usual, they say, we will face a rise in global temperatures that could have a disastrous impact on our planet, beyond that we are already facing.
To avoid that, we must move our economies away from their reliance on fossil fuels. That shift is not only good for the environment, but is also sensible from an economic point of view, and will help us to improve the long-term security of our energy supplies.
It is clear to me that we can regulate greenhouse gas emissions without slowing down our economies.
Our experience in Europe shows that adopting market-based solutions to deal with the threat of climate change can achieve effective results at affordable costs.
Apart from pioneering the low carbon economy at home, Europe is also supporting other countries worldwide as they increase their energy efficiency and exploit renewable energy sources. China in particular is Europe's biggest single recipient of financial and technical assistance in the field of energy and climate change.
China is making significant efforts to decouple growth from energy consumption. And this investment is already paying off in economic terms. China is leading in some renewable technologies such as solar panels. This kind of success is part of the reason why Europe believes that an international treaty to tackle climate change can be a win-win solution for all.
Finally Europe and China must cooperate to address the global security challenges of our time. For this, we need comprehensive strategies, strong international organisations and the rule of law, both within countries and between them.
We are each other's strategic partners. As China's policy paper on the EU states, "no fundamental conflict of interest exists between us and neither side poses a threat to the other".
We have examples of good cooperation in new areas like maritime surveillance. And we can expand our cooperation even further, by looking at the broader relationship. We can make a particular contribution, for instance, by addressing regional nuclear proliferation crises.
The demand for Europe to engage globally is huge. The Lisbon Treaty gives the European Union the chance to do this.
We have much to gain in increasing our cooperation on global security issues. Ultimately, I am confident in China's positive response to these challenges because, in the end, international stability and prosperity is in China's own interests. In a globalized world, those interests cannot be defined as narrow national objectives.
No doubt China has a difficult path to navigate between its needs for internal development and the demands that are being made on it to show greater international leadership. But the very scale of China's economy, and its geostrategic importance, means that what China does will affect the rest of the world. And what China does not do will also affect the rest of the world and ultimately also China. That is why China's partners, including the EU, will continue to invite it to play its full role in the new systems of global governance, to share its strategic thinking openly with partners, and to promote this openness also in terms of access to global information.
In all of this Europe stands ready to work in partnership with you.
In closing, let me quote from a speech Sir Christopher Soames, a former Commission Vice-President, gave to the European Parliament on the outcome of his visit to China back in 1975, when our relationship officially began:
"There is one point, and a particularly important one, over which I found myself in complete agreement with my Chinese hosts. This was over the future of the Community. They consider it in the interests of everyone that Western Europe should be strong and united. They…see it as having a vital role to play in the world.
The Commission's view… is that China and the European Community have much to gain from the closer and more confident relationship which now opens before us: both of us a people of yesterday, a people of tomorrow".
Let's make sure that we continue to gain from a closer and more confident relationship for another 35 years!