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Chinese Vice Premier Liu Yandong Visited VUB

More smartly dressed people than usual on campus Etterbeek last Wednesday, the 16th of September. The occasion: a visit of Liu Yandong, Vice Premier of the China. This distinguished attendance took place in the context of the fortieth birthday of diplomatic relations between the European Union and the People’s Republic.

Chinese self-image remarkably improved the last couple of decades. The emerging superpower steps to the forefront ever more confidently. And this could be sensed in auditorium Q, which was well-filled for Liu Yandong’s keynote speech.

An introduction was provided by Eddy Van Gelder, chair of the VUB board. In his footsteps followed the professors Xinning Song (director of the Centre for European Studies of Renmin University) and Gustaaf Geeraerts (professor at VUB and director of the Brussels Academy for China and European Studies). These last two summarised the most important conclusions of the 'EU-China 40 Years: A New Comprehensive Strategic Partnership' forum that took place, also at VUB, the previous day and morning, and which critically scrutinised the past, present, and future relationships between China and the EU.

Prof. Song emphasised the changed political context. The global political situation today is markedly different from that of forty years ago, when diplomatic EU-China relations hit it off. Today, China-EU relations have gained global significance themselves, first and foremost concerning problems demanding more global governance.

Prof. Geeraerts, too, stressed our shared interests. China and the EU both benefit, for example, from the sustainable development of their neighbouring regions. He also pointed to the crisis of 2008, which clearly showed how interconnected different countries’ trade, fiscal, and monetary policies really are. And that it is important we draw the necessary lessons from these experiences. In accordance with China’s foreign trade policy after 1978, prof. Geeraerts added that cooperating successfully is a very successful antidote to thinking in terms of ‘us’ and ‘them.’

After these introductions the most important speaker took the stage. Vice Premier Liu Yandong made a very courteous impression. She abundantly thanked for the opportunity to speech at the renowned VUB on this beautiful autumn day. She expresses appreciation for VUB's different achievements concerning the cooperation with Chinese institutions and underscores the importance of people to people interactions and a unity in diversity.

Instead of a political or economic perspective, Liu Yandong approached EU-China relations from a historic angle. Europe and China are both cradles of civilisation. They first met over two thousand years ago, along the Silk Road. Many an illustrious individual, from the likes of Plinius the Elder, Marco Polo, Voltaire, and Leibniz, was inspired by the Far East. But influence travelled both ways: the strong independence China started dreaming of some 200 years ago, was, to a great extent, inspired by contemporary European ideas.

By now China has taken its destiny in its own hands. The last forty years, ever stronger trade ties grew between the People’s Republic and the EU. But many different kinds of ties as well. Seventy planes fly between China and the EU every day. A renewed Silk Road is on its way.

China’s socio-economic development is unprecedented. But it remains a developing country. The path of development China follows is different from that of Europe, but not at all contradictory to it. And China’s way forward, as well, threatens no-one. The People’s Republic is “strongly committed to win-win development,” stresses Liu Yandong.

Development which also benefits VUB. The Brussels Academy for China and European Studies already cooperates with three of China’s top-ten universities. Ahead of Liu Yandong’s talk, new exchange scholarships were agreed upon with the China Scholarship Council. The new Confucius Institute at VUB was further fleshed out. In the multi-layered EU-China relations, VUB is an important academic hub.