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Remarks by H.E. Ambassador Song Zhe on the EU China Day at Ghent University
2011/03/17

Understand A Real China

2010/11/19

Respected Vice Governor De Buck,

Respected Rector Van Cauwenberge,

Dear Professors and Students,

I want to first thank the China Platform of the Ghent University for organizing this wonderful event.

Ghent is a city of time-honored history and cultural traditions, and Ghent University has over time produced many talented people. Dr. Rogge, President of the International Olympic Committee, very famous in China, is a graduate from here. Over the years, China Platform has grown into an effective intermediary for exchanges between Ghent University and Chinese universities and research institutes. I find events like today good ways to build mutual understanding and friendship. In this connection, China Platform is also an important bridge connecting the Chinese people and the people of Ghent, Belgium, or even Europe.

As the Chinese Ambassador to the European Union, I follow closely how China is being perceived by western countries. From what I understand, there is no constant agreement on what China really is. This is not surprising as we all see things differently. Nevertheless, it still confused me sometimes to see how easily the rhetoric about China can jump from one extreme to another. For one day, the hope of world to be rescued is upon us, and for another day, we are seen as the bad guy responsible for all sorts of troubles.

I always believe that the comprehensive knowledge of a real China will make a difference in putting right these biased views. And today, I wish to do so by presenting China in six key words.

The first one is change.

Henry Kissinger said that world is undergoing major changes rarely seen for a century, and the rise of China is the most prominent feature of this trend. The founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949 opened a new chapter in the Chinese contemporary history. However, China failed to jump on board the world's scientific and technological revolution in the years after, particularly due to the ten-year Cultural Revolution between the 1960s and 70s. The turning point came in 1978, as we decided to reform and open up, and China has thereafter embarked on a path of prosperity to reach where we are today.

I believe that many of you have already seen media reports from the Shanghai World Expo. The theme of this Expo--"Better City, Better Life" can be also observed in China's modernization and urbanization drive over the last three decades. The city of Shenzhen is a good example. Thirty years ago, when Shenzhen was designated as the Special Economic Zone, it was nothing but a poor small town. Yet the miracle of the Shenzhen speed has transformed the small town into a modern metropolis. It was exactly on this piece of land that we have seen an averaged 25.8% surge in the local GDP, which has helped accomplish a 1,000 fold GDP increase over the last 30 years.

For many cities across China, Shenzhen is a role model. Since 1978, the number of megacities in China increased by three per annum, and has in total reached 122 today. With a size of 600 million, our urban population grew by 27 by the minute. It took us nearly 30 years to grow our GDP from 100 billion to 1,000 billion or 1 trillion RMB Yuan, 15 years from 1 trillion to 10 trillion, 5 years from 10 trillion to 20 trillion, and 2 years from 20 trillion to 30 trillion. We lifted around 300 million people out of poverty, almost equivalent to the whole population of the United States. As people's living standards continue to improve, the size of the Chinese economy has also moved up from the world's number 10 to the second place.

The story of China's success goes on. The development of China has made possible that each and everyone of the Chinese people will be able to live up to their full potential and dreams. Throughout the country, people deserve credit for their success, and they are in a good place to do just better.

This is Bai Yansong, a famous Chinese news anchor. He was born in 1968 in a remote city in Inner Mongolia north of China, 2,000 kilometers away from Beijing. Back then, people there were only able to read newspapers three days after they were issued in Beijing. Mr. Bai was ten years old when China began to reform and open up. His father passed away early. So the burden of raising Bai and his younger brother fell on the shoulder of his mother, who could make no more than 10 US dollars a month. That was in 1978. Ten years later, in 1988, Bai was accepted to a college in Beijing. He then joined the China Central Television service, and has since done many important live reports, including the return of Hong Kong and Macau, the closure of the Yangtze River for the Three Gorges water conservancy project, and the 50th anniversary of the founding of the PR China. The experience of Mr. Bai is also a testimony of China's progress.

Yao Ming, one of the best known Chinese basketball players, was born in Shanghai in 1980. He started his training in a junior sports school at the age of nine, and has from there made all the way up to the national basket team. In 2002, the 22 year old was selected by Houston Rockets as the first overall pick in the NBA Draft, and has since started his international career. Today, Yao is a lead player in the Rockets and among the best centers in the NBA. As Yao Ming made his way, step by step, from Shanghai to the whole of China, and eventually to the whole world, China also, in steady steps, opened up its door, engaged the world, and embraced the future.

It is interesting to note how Yao and China kept the same pace as we take steps to embrace the world.

It is fair to say that few nations have experienced such enormous changes as the Chinese people have over the last three decades. In today's China, success is not an exclusive privilege enjoyed by a handful but by many as long as they are motivated and hardworking. And these encouraging stories of success together compiled the success of China as a dynamic and diverse nation.

There is a Chinese adage which speaks that "the east bank of the river today may become the west bank in the future as the river changes its course". Thirty years of reform and opening up has brought us remarkable progress that most of us didn't expect. And these changes have indeed shaped the way we live and the way we think.

Today, people in China enjoy more rights and freedom than ever before. David Shambaugh, an American Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, expressed in an article published in the Time magazine last year his observations on China's prosperous growth both in the economy and personal freedom since 1980s. He wrote, "Chinese today experience a wide variety of personal freedoms in daily life that they and their ancestors had never known".

In China, we have a fast growing netizen population. Internet subscribers have grown from zero to 420 million in 15 years, catching up quickly with the population of 27 EU member states combined. 66% of the netizens are frequent posts publishers. In other words, at least 270 million people are constantly making themselves heard online. People are free to express their views, including criticisms against the government, and today, "internet governance" has been added to the Chinese vocabulary. Through the internet, the people exercised the right to participate in political discourse, and the government drew the wisdom from the people and learnt about their concerns.

Yet like in any other country, freedom is not unconditional. And that condition is the respect for law. The great German writer Goethe said, "Only law can give us freedom". The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. However, the exercise of this right is subject to the limitations of certain obligations and responsibilities. People are supposed to respect the right and reputation of the others, ensure national security, public order, and public health, and protect the integrity of the moral standard. In China, we have a very clear line of the law differentiating criticizing the government and subverting the state authority. The same rationale is also followed in the United States and here in Europe as well.

What we have covered in the last 30 years is a very unusual development path. As every coin has two sides, one could only expect that our growth is not all about glamorous figures and achievements. In fact, backwardness is still the way of life in many parts of China, and our journey ahead is filled with difficulties and challenges. So the second key word I wish to speak about is challenge.

The first challenge is to sustain the momentum of economic growth. China is now the world's second largest economy. But divided by the 1.3 billion population, our 3,700 US dollar per capita GDP is at around 100th place worldwide and only half of the world average. The European Union is 10 times of our level, Japan 11 times, and the United States 13 times. The gap between urban and rural areas and among different regions remains a hugely demanding task to tackle. Some people say that in China we have three different worlds. The developed one includes Shanghai and Beijing. The rest of majority belong to the second world, whereas Guizhou, Yunnan, and Gansu make up the third world. More than 700 million people are still living in the rural region. Even today, many are still living in remote villages surrounded with harsh conditions, where the access to electricity and clean drinking water remains a luxury.

To maintain a sound social environment is another major challenge. Our social security system is nowhere near perfect. We have in China an 800 million work force. That number amounts to the total work force of all developed countries put together. Consider the total population of Belgium, which is less than 11 million, yet every year, we need to create 12 million jobs in China just to accommodate the newly added work force. Judging by the UN standard, 150 million Chinese people are still living in poverty, outnumbering the total population of France and Germany combined. The Chinese government has worked to provide special care for 83 million people with disabilities, equivalent to the German population.

The third challenge is to upgrade the industrial structure. China is still behind many developed countries in science and technology, education, and industrial productivity. The fact that we are a major trading nation does not change the reality that we are still at the lower end of the global industrial chain. The technology content and added value of our products remains low. The University of California used to conduct a study to examine the skeleton of the added value in an iPod, which is composed by 451 parts. Of the 299 US dollars retail price, 163 dollars go into the pockets of US companies and workers. Apple gets 80 dollars, distributors get 75 dollars, parts manufacturers get 8 dollars. For the rest, Japan receives 26 dollars of added value. And China earns only a humble 4 dollar income for assembling.

Apart from these challenges, there is also an urgent need to further strengthen the rule of law, address social unfairness, as well as corruption. The list cannot be exhausted. What I am trying to say is that China now stands at the point very much similar to where Europe was in the early 1970s, when your per capita GDP was also around 3,000 dollars. It is a point where golden opportunities meet pronounced tensions. Because of the population and because of our weak basis for development, the difficulty and magnitude of the tensions we face today is beyond what most people around the world could imagine. It is by no means rhetoric yet the painful reality that we still have a long way to go before we could see a modernized China, where all the Chinese people could live a comfortable life so taken for granted by many people in the developed world.

The European integration shows that peace and stability are important ingredients to progress and prosperity. The same can be told for China's reform efforts as well. It is a gradual process driven by agreements under a stable political environment. The truth is, China cannot go through an overhaul in one night without devastating consequences. In this sense, what we need most is the modest expectation from other countries on where we are heading. Here I wish to quote an article by Tony Blair on the Wall Street Journal. He wrote, "Disorder is their enemy and ours…Think of the disaster, not just to the Chinese, but to ourselves if it fractured…We may criticize the speed of political reform, and raise concerns about human rights and the rule of law. But we should at least understand that their political and economic endeavor is unique in human history…, and its complexity should be recognized."

Now the third key word I wish to talk about is inclusiveness.

It has been the constant aspiration of the Chinese government to promote scientific development, social harmony, and inclusive growth. The goal is to achieve coordinated and sustainable development by bringing the benefits of economic growth to all.

To be specific, domestically, we have worked on three aspects. We are committed to economic growth and are working strenuously to increase the social benefits. We are taking steps to uphold social just and fairness in rule making, distribution of wealth, and the balance of rights and obligations. We want to give everyone a fair chance to succeed. We are striving to improve the wellbeing of our people. Education, employment, pension, housing, medical care, and health service-none of these is being taken lightly as we move to strengthen our social security system. The bottom line is-we want to make sure that our development is of the people, by the people, and for the people.

Internationally, inclusive growth requires us to accommodate the development of others and cooperate for win-win progress. I believe that many of you still remember the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Back then, our exports plunged, domestic demand tumbled, unemployment figures rocketed, not to mention the huge loss caused by the severe flooding. Despite of all these insurmountable difficulties, we have not forgotten the larger interests of the whole region. The Chinese government has maintained the value of our currency, and has taken a host of active measures to contain the crisis, contributing greatly to the speedy recovery and development of the Asian economy.

When the latest financial crisis broke out two years ago, the Chinese government has once again acted promptly and resolutely to adopt a package plan that helped us maintain steady and fast economic growth. We extended a helping hand to many other countries. Since February 2009, the Chinese government has in total sent 11 trade and business facilitation delegations to Europe, bringing 58 billion US dollar worth of business to 30 plus countries in the region. When some Euro zone countries were caught in difficulty, China did not stand idly by. Instead, we have held onto and even purchased more Euro bonds. These measures have received high esteem, and last year, China contributed to half of the world's economic growth.

The vision behind "inclusive growth" is a harmonious world of durable peace and common prosperity. This vision can only be sustained in a world that is open-minded to all different systems and civilizations. Ghent University advocates for pluralism and "inter utrumque" (in between both extreme). We share the same spirit of harmonious coexistence, and are both willing to draw from each other's best practice and to seek common ground while putting aside differences. Speaking of the difference, chopsticks and knife and fork help us do the same thing by different means. Chinese and western musical instruments play different sounds but the same note. And the same image interpreted by the Chinese painting can be just as impressive as the western oil painting. I believe that so long as we are tolerant and respect each other, we will be able to keep a peaceful world of stability and prosperity.

The fourth key word is equality.

China follows an independent foreign policy of peace, and we always treat all members of the international community with equality and mutual respect regardless of their size, strength, or wealth.

I understand that some people have misgivings about China's large size and fast development, and fear that China will seek hegemony in the future and will no longer treat others as equals. There is no basis to worries like such. It is in our tradition to pursue peace as can be evidenced by the Great Wall, which was built solely for the purpose of defense. We did invent the gunpowder. Yet we used it for fireworks rather than to hurt people. Even when we were as strong as contributing to 30% of the world's economy several hundred years ago, we did not become a hegemonic power nor did we invade any other country. We as a nation simply don't have the gene of expansion in our blood.

The further we develop, the tighter we bond ourselves with the rest of the world. Looking ahead, anyone with reason will see in clear terms that peace is the trend of the world that we must follow. That is why we, both the government and people in China, are very serious about pursuing peaceful development and the opening up strategy of mutual benefit and win-win progress. It is our strategic decision, and we will honor what we promise.

The next key word is responsibility.

China is a responsible country and actively participates in the maintenance of world peace and stability. Among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, China is the largest contributor of peace-keeping troops to the UN-led missions. From Haiti in America to Bosnia and Herzegovina and Kosovo in Europe, from East Timor and Afghanistan in Asia to Liberia and Sudan in Africa and Lebanon in the Middle East, we have deployed our peacekeeping personnel to around the world.

This picture honors the eight Chinese peace-keeping police officers who lost their lives in the devastating Haiti earthquake this January. Although there are no diplomatic ties between China and Haiti, in the wake of the earthquake, the Chinese government has, in the humanitarian spirit, sent rescue teams promptly, and they were the first in Asia and the world's fourth to arrive in Haiti.

Today, people will find, whether on TV or newspaper, that China has already become an indispensible actor in the resolution of virtually all hotspot issues ranging from the Korean nuclear issue and Iranian nuclear issue to the fight against terrorism and piracy.

While developing ourselves, China is also committed to the common development of the whole world. In order to help developing countries emerge from the financial crisis, China has provided 10 billion US dollar concessional loans to African countries and 15 billion dollar credit support to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, and other ASEAN countries. We have also required the IMF on clear terms that our further 50 billion dollar Chinese investment in the Fund should be prioritized to assist the least developed countries.

By the end of last year, China has already in total canceled 25.6 billion RMB Yuan of debts for 50 heavily-indebted poor countries and the least developed countries. We plan to further cancel the outstanding interest-free loans owed by the governments of these countries due to be settled this year. By July this year, we have already granted zero-tariff treatment to 4,700 plus categories of exports from 33 least developed countries, extending the preferential treatment to an overwhelming majority of their export goods to China.

To date, China has built for developing countries over 150 schools, nearly 100 hospitals, 70 drinking water processing facilities, and more than 60 stadiums and gymnasiums. And our medical teams have treated hundreds of millions of patients in around 70 countries worldwide.

There was an article from the Financial Times that speaks about Chinese investment in Africa. It reads and I quote, "A few years ago, Lukas Lundin, a mining executive, rode his motorbike 8,000 miles from Cairo to Cape Town. His journey, which took just five weeks, meandered through 10 countries, including Sudan, Ethiopia, Malawi, Zambia and Botswana. He was amazed to discover that 85 per cent of the roads he travelled were tarred and of high quality. Many had been built by Chinese companies" unquote. The rise of China has created hope for Africa to shake off poverty, and Africa has indeed become a win-win partner and significantly boosted its sustainable development capacity in its cooperation with China. Such observation is also shared by our friends in Africa as can be found in the article called "Why Africa welcomes the Chinese" written by President Kagame of Rwanda for the Guardian.

Now we have already covered five key words: change, challenge, inclusiveness, equality, and responsibility. Lastly, I wish to talk about China-EU relations, and I suppose partnership would be the most appropriate and fitting word to summarize our relations.

China and Europe established diplomatic ties in 1975, and over the last 35 years, we have witnessed three big leaps forward, namely the constructive partnership, the comprehensive partnership, and the present comprehensive strategic partnership.

The economic and trade cooperation between China and Europe continued to grow. Europe has for six consecutive years maintained China's largest trading partner. China is the second largest trading partner of Europe. This year, our bilateral trade volume is expected to reach 500 billion US dollars. That means as we organize this EU China Day, our bilateral trade volume grew by another 1.3 billion US dollars.

While we deepen business ties, our cooperation in finance, technology, education, energy, and environment protection is growing rapidly as well. The Europalia-China Art Festival, which was held in Belgium last year for 130 days, has demonstrated to more than 1 million audiences the charm of the Chinese history and culture. And this year, for the first time, the EU participated in the World Expo in a non-EU country. The dynamic people-to-people exchange through events like such has helped a great deal to increase mutual understanding between our two peoples.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The world today is a one of development, change, and adjustment. While Europe continues to integrate after the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty, China is moving forward in pursuit of modernization. We are so much into each other in this interconnected world that none of us can afford to lose the other. As we sail in the same boat, there is nothing that we can do other than to cooperate. One European leader used to remark that, quote "How China changes will impact profoundly how we change. Our obligation is to treat China as a partner as we determine together the way the world will work in the future. If we treat China as our equal, China can be our economic, political and cultural ally", unquote.

I always believe that with our strong complementarity, cooperation between us will bring benefits to all. There is a lot more that we can achieve through the China-EU partnership of mutual respect and equality, and such partnership is the best choice of our peoples, the international community, and the future.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Youth is our future. The friendship between our young peoples is the sound basis to the healthy growth of China-EU ties. Next year is the China-EU Year of Youth, and 2012 is the Year of Intercultural Dialogue. It is my sincere hope that, through such exchange, our young peoples can understand each other better, deepen friendship, and work together to create a better tomorrow.

In the end, I wish to conclude with the words of President Rogge, "We are preparing for the joint team, which is going much further than just two teams parading together."

Thank you

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