Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth
A year's good plans shall start with spring
Forum of the EU-China High-Level People-to-People Dialog
Brussels, 18 April 2012
State Councillor Liu,
Ministers and Vice-Ministers,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great honour for me to be here with you this afternoon, on a very special day in the relationship between the EU and China: the day on which we have held the first meeting of the China-EU High-Level People-to-People Dialogue.
An ancient Chinese proverb seems appropriate on this April afternoon:
"A year's good plans shall start with spring."
On this spring morning, State Councillor Liu and I, in the presence of high representatives from the relevant Chinese ministries and Commission services, inaugurated the High-Level People-to-People Dialogue and discussed the multiple possibilities that it will give us for strengthening our relations.
This is an essential step towards a closer, more human relationship between the EU and China. I am very pleased that State Councillor Liu fully shares my commitment to a strengthened dialogue in the areas of education, culture and youth policies. I would like to thank her for her leadership and for her vision.
Madame Liu and I met for the first time in Beijing only a few months ago, in October 2011. From that first moment, we understood that we had a challenging task ahead of us, but we also knew that it was a vital step towards greater cooperation and mutual understanding between China and Europe. We both shared a high level of enthusiasm for the task.
The goal was first set in 2011 at the highest level, when President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao, President Van Rompuy and President Barroso decided to establish a third pillar of EU-China cooperation on "people to people" exchanges.
Since then, we have worked hard to turn this forward-looking idea into reality, and to extend the "bridges of friendship" between our peoples.
We want this third pillar to take its place alongside and on an equal footing with those that already exist – the High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue and the High Level Strategic Dialogue.
Our new dialogue will not weaken the existing joint programmes and other forms of cooperation in this field. It will instead lay the basis for an on-going stewardship of the bilateral relationship, and provide a forum for exchanging information and identifying common objectives and strategies.
It will help to broaden and deepen the knowledge and mutual understanding between China and the EU, by enhancing the contacts between our people. It will open a new channel for discussion of strategic societal issues of common interest. And it will help to identify opportunities for cooperation based on shared interest and reciprocity.
This morning, State Councillor Liu and I agreed on a number of initiatives to be implemented in the next couple of years.
In the field of education, we agreed to establish a new forum on higher education – the "EU-China Higher Education Platform for Cooperation and Exchange" – to help us identify themes of common interest for future joint work.
We will expand the mobility of students, academics and researchers between the EU and China, and conduct an EU-China "Tuning" joint study in order to bring our higher education systems and institutions closer.
Since the knowledge of languages holds the key to mutual understanding, and since we both value so highly our linguistic and cultural heritage, we will support exchanges of language students and teachers of lesser-spoken EU official languages, and support the organisation of a China-EU conference on multilingualism at the end of this year.
In the area of culture, we want to upgrade our cooperation, in particular through a shared exploration of how we can realise the full potential of our cultural and creative industries.
We will continue, of course, with the EU-China Year of Intercultural Dialogue, and pave the way for even closer cooperation in the future through a Joint Declaration, which we will sign at the Closing Ceremony of the Year of Intercultural Dialogue later this year. This will also be the occasion for another EU-China High Level Culture Forum.
Since the media represent a privileged means to promote intercultural dialogue, we will continue to seize the opportunities offered by the MEDIA Mundus Programme, and explore other ways of promoting exchanges of works, expertise and cultural professionals. We will also closely monitor the projects launched on the cultural and creative industries under the EU-China Trade Project.
In youth, we will substantially increase the partnerships and networks between Chinese and European youth organisations. We will organise an EU-China expert seminar on youth entrepreneurship with a strong focus on how to nurture young people's creativity, innovation, the development of their life-skills and attitudes. We will also expand web-based cooperation between the Chinese and EU portals specialising in youth.
But these are not projects for governments only. None of these initiatives will succeed without the active support and participation of civil society.
That is why I would like to thank you – the participants in this forum – for your work today. This forum will allow us to bring to life the political commitments we have taken together. The conclusions of your sectoral panels on education, culture and youth already offer a number of practical suggestions for translating those commitments into action.
And let me thank all those people, on both the Chinese and European sides, who made today's event possible. You have done a remarkable job, and we greatly appreciate your efforts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The EU and China are strategic partners on the global stage. As we launch this dialogue, it is important for us to reflect upon the issues that will shape our relationship, and, with it, the 21st century.
This may sound like rather a grand claim. However, bear in mind that together the EU and China account for a quarter of the world's population; and that in terms of economic output and volumes of trade our share is even greater. Our work here today is of the highest, global importance.
Our peoples are becoming more and more inter-dependent, and we are aware too that our common interests are growing. What matters most now is that these developments are underpinned by a growing desire for deeper cooperation.
We stand at opposite ends of the Euro-Asian continent; we have very different histories; we both value highly our diversity. And yet we face common challenges – economic, environmental, even demographic – and our political and economic cooperation is essential if we are to overcome them.
And the key to successful cooperation is mutual understanding. This is why people-to-people contacts have acquired this increasingly prominent role in our relations.
Ultimately, it will be our peoples who forge new and deeper bonds. It is they who will build the lasting bridges of trust and understanding that we, as policy makers, can only facilitate, promote and support. We are making progress in this important work, and I would like to thank again the Chinese side for their goodwill and eagerness to join us on this journey.
I am comforted in my hopes for a stronger relationship between the EU and China by the fact that – faced with shared problems – we are making similar policy choices.
The EU has put education and skills development at the heart of its strategy for overcoming the current economic and financial crisis, and finding again the path of long-term growth. China has chosen to invest considerably in education for both economic and social reasons. They are showing hugely impressive results. Today, one in three students entering higher education is in China. The performance of Chinese schools and universities sits at the top of international rankings.
Regarding the place of culture, Europe and China are both heirs to ancient and remarkable civilizations. They are also home to many of the most vibrant centres where contemporary culture is being created and enjoyed by citizens. More than 400 contemporary art museums are under construction in China, and roughly the same number of art galleries exists in Beijing alone.
The truth is that we may be far apart in geographical terms, but there is a lot about our people that reminds us of each other. About our young people in particular.
Last year, during the EU-China Year of Youth, I had the opportunity to meet many of the young people – Chinese and Europeans – involved in the various projects that made the Year such a success. I listened to their stories, heard their demands for more such opportunities, and rejoiced in their eagerness to engage in a genuine dialogue.
I will always keep a fond memory of the Youth Week we organised in Brussels and Antwerp in April. More than one hundred representatives of the youth of China took part in the different meetings, conferences and visits. That day, I was struck by the young people's energy and enthusiasm, and felt freshly confident about the contribution they can make to the world of tomorrow. I feel even more confident today.
These young people are shaping the future of our relationship – our common future. There is nothing new in China and the EU being powerful players on the world stage. They have been for most of known history. What is new, what has changed in the world, for the better, is the awareness that we are living in one world, that our fates are intertwined, and that we need to act together if we want to succeed in our ambitions.
This new awareness of the interconnectedness of the world – shared above all among young people – is an extraordinary opportunity for leaving behind the old world of power politics, cultural stereotypes and misperception, and ultimately ignorance and isolation. It is an opportunity for shaping the 21st century around the values of openness, respect and understanding.
With your help, and with the dialogue we started today, we have a new tool for making the most of all these opportunities, and putting people at the heart of our relations. I wish you and our dialogue every success.