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Address by H.E. Ambassador Song Zhe, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU On the China Evening at Louvain-la-Neuve

Focus on China  

Dear President Dumont,

Director Nandrin,

Professor Defraigne,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Fellow students,

Good evening!

I want to thank Louvain-la-Neuve and Saint Louis College for this China Evening. I very much appreciate this opportunity to meet with you on such a wonderful occasion.

Before I start, I would like to ask, how many of you have been to China? Please raise your hands. Thank you. And please raise your hand if you think you know China. Thank you.

Jean Monnet, after spending three years in China, said we should be modest and never rush to a conclusion about China. Indeed, China is so big and complex, even as native Chinese, we're not confident enough to say that we fully know about our country.

Tonight, I've brought some pictures and stories, through which I hope we together could have a closer look at China.

Let's start with our Belgian friends and see how they perceived China.

The first one is cartoonist Herge. Many European friends may be very familiar with his Tintin's Adventures, among which there is one called "The Blue Lotus", which was the name of an opium house in Shanghai. In his book, Herge depicted the China in the 1930s, a place of living nightmare. Opium poisoned the body and soul of the Chinese people. Large cities like Shanghai were dissected to concessions to imperialist powers. Japanese invaders plotted the Mukden Incident for aggression. China then was a society filled with colonialists, feudalist powers, corruption, invaders, warlords, natural disasters, absolute backwardness, and extreme poverty. There was no decent mechanized factory or farming whatsoever, let alone proper industries. Most people counted on manual labor for living, and the average life expectancy was only 35 years. Electricity was a luxury for only 10% of all cities and towns. Ironically enough, people always put a prefix "foreign" to the commodities like matches or nails simply because we were not able to make them ourselves. By that time, less than 10% of the populations were literate, and colleges each year only produced several thousand graduates.

The second one is novelist Mme Nothomb. In her novel Loving Sabotage, we could see a China in the 1970s through the eyes of a little girl who stayed with her father, a Belgian diplomat for three years in Beijing at Sanlitun, a place home to many diplomatic missions. Reform and opening were to come in years, and what she saw was a rigid economy, inadequate supply, and spiritless life. For instance, there was no assembly line for household appliances all across China. For many people, they worked hard simply to stay afloat the poverty line. 250 million people in rural areas were caught in absolute poverty. The Engel coefficient went beyond 57%. I can never forget a survey report by a senior correspondent of Xinhua News Agency in 1975 on a cotton mill in my hometown Tianjin. In that report, an average worker's family monthly living expense was only 10 RMB Yuan. That is a little more than 1 Euro. Beijing under the pen of Nothomb is a grayish city of isolation, blankness, and discomfort: an airport almost got their luggage lost, empty streets with few cars running, small tea stalls which hardly offered any choices. Apart from their Chinese chef, Nothomb barely knew any other ordinary Chinese people. She felt like living in "the mysterious other world". Although she was quite proud of her experience in China, she was reluctant to step back onto that gray soil.

The third one is Mr. Toussant. His Medici award-winning novel Flee tells a story in Beijing and Shanghai in the 21st century. Toussaint's ties with China began with a scholarship in November 2001 that put him on a flight to China for a two-month study trip to Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. This time, China is open, modern and thriving. It's a place where miracles happen. In Toussaint's book, China is a perfect compound of modernity and historical elegance. In Shanghai, classical European style buildings along the Huangpu River and modern skyscrapers in Pudong stand amidst the dazzling street lights, whereas in Beijing, for the one minute you are enjoying the peace and tranquility of the Forbidden City and the Lama Temple, for another minute your breath will be taken by the maze-like roads packed with cars. Construction projects can be found everywhere: new buildings, train stations, and highways. Of course, the writer didn't miss all the new problems that kept surfacing: overcrowding, traffic, pollution and many downsides that go along with speedy urbanization.

When we cast our eyes to China together with our three Belgium friends, we can't help but marvel that their works have presented such breathtaking changes in China in the past century in such a vivid and profound way! For Herge, China was a country in shambles deserving help and sympathy; for Nothomb, a mysterious yet impoverished and isolated land, like "Chanel No.5" as she called; and for Toussaint, a place of pace, power and passion, so different from the Island of Elba.

Indeed, China has come through a long journey to stand where we are. It's the result of unceasing hard work and exploration. Into the 21st century, China keeps changing in fast speed. We are proud of what we have achieved and are prepared to do a better job. Here I wish to share with you some images of the modern China.

This is the microwave oven assembly line of Guangdong Galanz Group. Twelve years ago, the production sales volume of the company came top in the world, and it has never since given up that place. Today, for every two microwave ovens in the world, one is made by Galanz. Over the last thirty years since reforms, China has made a lot of difference in economy: 9.8% average annual growth rate, 10-fold increase of per capita GDP, and 200 million people out of poverty. China is the world's second largest manufacturer, the largest exporter, and the biggest auto market. Today, China shares 15.6% of the world's manufacturing business, making 80% of the small household appliances, 70% of the DVD player, and half of the telephones. Companies like Galanz caught the trend of growth and made themselves legends of success. The growth of China also nourished success for many foreign businesses. In fact, as echoed by the OECD survey, every 1% increase of China's GDP will help other developing countries cut absolute poverty population by 15 million in a single year.

Last year, in the face of the financial crisis, China's GDP still grew by 8.7%, contributing to more than half of the world economic growth. This year, despite of the encouraging forecast of 9.5% increase released by the World Bank, the Chinese government has fixed the goal for GDP growth rate at around 8%, not because we are less confident, but because we are sober minded of the underlying problems, and we are poised to adjust our economic structure and change the way we grow.

This is Xing Lei and her fellow astronauts hopefuls. They are the first group of prospective female astronauts in China. From artificial satellite to manned space flight and to lunar probe program, the history of China's science and technology development is marked by impressive chapters. Shenzhou V and Shenzhou VII spacecrafts have successfully taken our astronauts to the outerspace, and this is just the beginning of our long held dream of the universe.

Today, China has the largest contingent of Science and Technology professionals in the world. And this 42 million people includes 1.9 million full-time equivalent (FTE) R&D personnel, which is the world's second largest. Through innovation, China emerges as one of the world leaders in high temperature superconductivity, nano-technology, quantum teleportation, and life sciences. Breakthroughs have also been made in super-hybrid rice, high-performance computers, and 3G mobile communication technologies. Innovation has been a core element of China's national development strategy and we'll stay committed to build an innovative nation.

This picture was taken in August 2005. It shows the 87-year-old Mamayi marrying his 56-year-old bride. It was a wedding much being told in Xinjiang. Mamayi is a master artist for the heroical epic Manass, one of the three greatest epic poems of ethnic minorities in China, a heritage passed down verbally by generations of Kirgiz people. As a descendent of Manass, Mamayi can recite more than 230,000 lines of the poem, 14 times the length of the Homeric epic Iliad. In Xinjiang alone, Manass and other more than 40 intangible culture heritages were listed in the protection catalogue. The central government also provides allowances for 24 Manass folk artists to ensure the preservation of such unique and precious culture. This is just a small example of how we are doing our best to preserve traditions and arts of our 56 ethnic groups, whose diverse and rich cultures run as life blood for the thriving Chinese civilization.

The following pictures record China as the main guest of honor to the Europalia-China Art Festival and the Frankfurt Book Fair. In 2009, one out of five books published in China were translated from foreign languages, and these books share 30% of our home market. Overseas, Confucius Institutes convey the charm of the Chinese culture to all parts of Europe including 14 in France and 3 in Belgium.

I believe many of you still remember the Beijing Olympics in 2008. That year, for the first time, China topped the gold medal tally. This year, in Vancouver, Chinese athletes hit another breakthrough, getting the seventh place in the gold medal tally by bringing home 5 gold medals, 2 silvers, and 4 bronzes from the Winter Olympics. What you see here is the 18-year-old Zhou Yang, our speed skater winning the Olympic gold medal in the women's 1,500 meters event in Vancouver. China was once tagged as "the sick man of East Asia". This part of history is long gone and will never repeat.

This is Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao answering questions during online-chatting with the public. Internet users in China topped 384 million by the end of last year. This number is bigger than the total population of the United States. With blogs and online discussion boards, internet has, in today's China, become an indispensable channel both for people to speak out and for the government to listen to.

This is Bai Yitong, a 19-year old college graduate. She was elected as the head of a village in Shaanxi by 97.6% of the vote in January last year. She is a good example of grass-root democracy in rural regions.

Over the years since the founding of the People's Republic of China, we have explored and consolidated ways to implement socialist democracy: the community level self-governance, the people's congress, and the multi-party cooperation and political consultative conference under the leadership of the Communist Party. Direct elections with public speeches and campaigns are now being run in some 600,000 villages among more than 700 million rural populations.

My Premier Wen Jiabao used to say, here I quote, "I firmly believe that if the general public could run well a village, they could certainly do the same for a town, a county or even a province. However, we should take phased steps to develop our unique democracy in consistency with our own national conditions." This year, representatives to the National People's Conference, by a clear majority, passed the Amendment to the Electoral Law. This legal document provides equal electoral rights for rural and urban citizens, terminating the practice of four farmers having one vote as an urban resident. This equal representation in the National People's Congress is a hallmark and marks a huge step forward in the promotion of democratic politics.

An ancient Chinese philosopher Mencius used to say, "In the time of hardships, a man should seek self-development through efforts of his own. Once becoming well-off, he should help others with a big heart." As China develops, we begin to take greater responsibility for the well-being of the international community.

This photo honors the eight Chinese peace-keeping police officers who lost their lives in the devastating Haiti earthquake. China has no diplomatic ties with Haiti, yet the Chinese rescue team was the first in Asia and the world's fourth to arrive on the spot. China, among the permanent members of the Security Council, 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, we have sent a total of 10,000 peacekeeping personnel on 24 UN missions to all parts of the world, with more than 2,100 being currently deployed.

This picture was taken in the Republic of Congo. The Chinese engineers, undeterred by the tropical heat, diseases, and deficient supply, are helping the local people build Imboulou hydropower station. It is good to know that our African friends there will finally see an end to the countless days of power failure before this year end.

As an active force for world peace and security, development and prosperity, China has so far provided assistance to more than 120 countries and canceled debts for 49 heavily-indebted poor countries and the least developed countries. We grant zero-tariff treatment to products from more than 40 least developed countries and provide other developing countries over 200 billion RMB Yuan of assistance.

Now I wish to say a few words on the financial crisis and the Copenhagen conference.

In response to the financial crisis, we have actively cooperated with the rest of world to tide over the difficulties. We increased our domestic demand, maintained a stable exchange rate, and sent abroad several big government procurement teams, which include ten trade and investment facilitation delegations to Europe for large purchase orders and expanding investment. My President Hu Jintao attended all three G20 summits, making great efforts to coordinate our macroeconomic policies, promote international financial system reform, and maintain a stable multilateral trading system.

In addressing the crisis, we follow the strategy of mutual benefit and win-win progress and contribute to the world economic recovery in our own way. Last year, our import only went down 11% when our export declined by 16%. In the first two months this year, our trade surplus falls by 50.5% with import drastically increased by 64%, twice the export growth rate.

While in Copenhagen, Premier Wen Jiabao and the Chinese delegation have made extraordinary efforts, particularly in the last 60 hours of the conference, sparing no time to talk to different parties, making valuable contribution to the final Copenhagen Accord.

China's target is to cut the carbon intensity by 40%-45% by 2020 off the 2005 level. This goal serves the fundamental interests of the Chinese people and the mankind as a whole. It is voluntary, with no strings attached. And it is not linked to the emission cut goal of any other countries. China is in the crucial stage of industrialization and urbanization. Coal is our primary source of energy. Therefore, meeting the target represents an unusual challenge and will require painstaking efforts. But we will be trustworthy in words, resolute in deeds, and meet or even overstep the target no matter what difficulties await ahead. We are willing to join hands with the EU and other countries to make active and unremitting contribution to address climate change.

In a month, the Shanghai World Expo will be open. Inspired by its theme "Better City, Better Life", we conscientiously take measures to minimize carbon emissions from start to finish: in site selection, planning, design, operation, and even for post Expo utilization. During the Expo, many EU countries will showcase their distinct concepts and technologies on environment protection. I believe the legacy of the Shanghai World Expo will go beyond stylish and exotic buildings. It will leave us a rich green legacy of inspiring urban development concepts and practices.

Having said all these, I would like to remind you that China remains a developing country.

You may not believe or even want to laugh at what I said. To be honest, I wouldn't believe either had I only been to Beijing and Shanghai. But the reality is that Beijing and Shanghai do not represent the whole of China. Should you ever been to the central and western parts of China or to the rural areas, you will find that development in China is severely out of balance. There are many challenges ahead. We still need several decades till the mid-21st century to become a moderately developed country, and there will be another one hundred years or even more before we can see a truly modernized China.

The GDP of China ranks third in the world. But divided by our population of 1.3 billion, our per capita GDP dramatically falls behind 100 countries with only about 3,600 US dollars, less than half of the world's averaging 8,000 dollars, and only around 10% of the EU's average. 150 million Chinese, more than France's and Germany's total population combined, live on less than 1 US dollar a day. We have 167 million people above the age of 60, equivalent to the combined population of the UK, Italy and Spain. We have a huge labor force in the rural regions with lasting inadequate employment-230 million migrant workers, nearly half of the EU population. Our government takes care of 83 million people with disabilities. That is almost the population of Germany. In China, 10 million people still don't have access to electricity. And every year our Government has to create jobs for another 12 million people, equivalent to the total population of Belgium.

Some people joked that you can see three different worlds in China: a Europe in the east, an Asia in the middle, and an Africa in the west. The Yangtze River delta, with only 1% of land and 6% of population, produces more than 20% of our GDP. On the contrary, the harsh natural conditions and fragile eco-environment in vast areas in the central and western part of China invariably lead to large-scale poverty-stricken economy in these regions. For instance, the per capita GDP of Guizhou Province is less than 12.5% of Shanghai. In extreme cases, due to shortage of water, some people in Gansu Province only take three baths in a lifetime when they were born, married, and deceased. Exactly in this month, five southwestern provinces were plagued by severe drought, affecting over 50 million and leaving over 16 million lacking drinking water.

Look at this picture. This is an elementary school built on a 2,800-meter-high cliff in the poor mountainous region of the Yi minority autonomous prefecture. For more than 18 years, the couple Li Guilin and Lu Jianfen carried their students on their back to and from this "school on the ladder" through these five 20-meter-long wooden ladders everyday. As a result, they turned this minority village of ignorance and poverty into a one of knowledge and promise. Their dedication and love have won them the honor as one of the top ten people touching China in 2009.

In Europe, the per capita GDP exceeded 3,000 US dollars in 1970s. China is currently in a similar period. It is a time of both golden development opportunities and pronounced social tensions. It remains arduous tasks for us to narrow the gap between urban and rural areas and between different regions and to promote coordinated economic and social development. And it also remains our zealous hope to allow every Chinese to achieve comprehensive development with freedom, equality, happiness, and dignity.

The Chinese Government needs to strike a balance among reform strength, development speed, and social stability. This is by no means an easy task. We need understanding and support from our friends in the EU and other parts of the world.

Here I wish to quote an article by Tony Blair on the Wall Street Journal, "Are China's leaders concerned about ensuring that this (meaning the shift from farming to industry) happens with minimum chaos and maximum stability? Of course, and so they should be. 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. Its magnitude is beyond the comprehension of most Western leaders, and its complexity should be recognized…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."

Finally, I would like to invite you to review with me the cover stories of China in the Time magazine.

Here you see a foreboding and demonized China in the 1950s and 70s, a China of mingled hope and worry in the 1980s and 90s, approbation of Deng Xiaoping on several occasions, and finally frequent and multi-dimensional coverage of China between 1997 and 2009. "China" has become a word that is associated with world power. The images of China has transcended from a boring and rigid face to one of sincere handshakes and confident smile. These covers, while showcasing the phenomenal changes that China has gone through, also offered us an evolving perspective of China. What we see through these mirrors is that, the world is changing, China is changing and the way the world looks at China has been changing too.

History moves ahead on its own course, notwithstanding among our love, fear, resistance or cooperation. The Chinese people, with their perseverance and painstaking efforts, lived a story of remarkable success in front of the world of audience. In the future, we'll continue to reform and open up and forge ahead along the road of peaceful development. It is the choice of 1.3 billion Chinese people, and it is the choice of history.

Voltaire, fascinated by the Chinese culture, regretted some 200 years ago that it was a huge misfortune that he couldn't be like a Chinese. Yet today, I often hear questions from the people in Europe, "Why couldn't China act in the way like us?" In the Blue Lotus, Tintin said to his Chinese friend "Zhang" that the people in China took all the people from the west as bad guys, whereas in Europe, many people also have misgivings and bias against China.

Indeed, the far distance between China and Europe means that sometimes, we may need to use telescopes to observe each other. But only with the right focal distance and correct aperture could we get the true pictures. We are different in history, culture, political system, and level of economic development. Therefore, it is all the more important for us to embrace each other with sincerity, cooperation, open mind and inclusive spirit. It's like appreciating different arts. I love the refinement and elegance of traditional Chinese music and paintings, but this doesn't prevent me from embracing the glamour and magnificence of western symphony and oil painting.

In this globalized world, countries, nations, and even individuals share a same destiny. China needs cooperation with the world for success, and the world needs a successful China for a brighter future. At the moment, both China and the EU are undergoing major development and adjustment. We are in a wonderful time of opportunities. We shouldn't be the mere audience this time. We should be makers of the history. We should answer the calling of our time, develop our countries, and work for a stronger China-EU relationship.

Dear Friends,

2011 will be the Year of China-EU Youth Exchange, and I'm sure we will gather again on that occasion. The next time we meet, I'll ask the same question which I brought to you earlier this evening. Hopefully, by that time, I will hear you say: Yes. I've been to China! I like China! And I do know more about China!

Thank you!

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