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Remarks by H.E. Ambassador Song Zhe at theOpening Session of China-EU Conference on Environmental Law

Rector Van Cauwenberge,Mr. Chairman,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all, I wish to thank the organizer for inviting me to speak here at Ghent University. I am very happy to exchange views with environment law experts and scholars from both China and Europe, and share with you the progress China has made in strengthening the rule of law and environment protection.

Since its founding in 1817, Ghent University has produced a large number of talents and remarkable people. There are both respectful statesmen and world-renowned Nobel laureates. It is my sincere wish that such tradition and success will continue in this university, and we will be able to see an even greater number of talented people coming out of Ghent to contribute to the economic and social development in Belgium, Europe and beyond.

As an old Chinese saying goes, mutual understanding brings together two peoples living across the world as close neighbors. China and Europe have enjoyed time-honored friendship despite of our far distance across the Eurasia continent. Since the turn of the century, our relations have embarked on a fast track of development. Our comprehensive strategic partnership continued to expand. We have seen unprecedented growth in our exchanges, adding rich substance to our ties. With the all-dimensional, extensive, and multi-tiered cooperation, we are in the best moment of our bilateral relations.

There is huge opportunity for China-EU relations in this globalised and multipolar world. We have become indispensable partners in tackling global challenges in an international environment that becomes ever more complicated. Our shared values and common interests enable us to play increasingly important roles in resolving major global issues. The advance we make in our partnership will not only underpin our respective growth, but also contribute to world peace and development. Developing stronger cooperation between China and Europe enjoys full endorsement of our leaderships and governments.

This year witnessed frequent high-level exchange of visits between China and Europe. Both President Barroso of the European Commission and President Buzek of the European Parliament have visited China. Earlier this month, High Representative Ashton paid her second visit to China to launch the first High Level China-EU Strategic Dialogue. From China, top legislator Wu Bangguo and Vice President Xi Jinping have also paid visits to Europe. Two weeks from today, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will be visiting Belgium and attending the ASEM 8 and the 13th China-EU Summit here in Brussels. I believe that these visits will help foster new progress in our strategic partnership.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is based on these positive developments that I find our discussion here today is of particular relevance. First, exchanges in the area of environment law between China and Europe gives expression to the deepening of our relations and expansion of our cooperation. Second, our exchanges will help advance environment studies in both China and Europe and strengthen the rule of law, thereby providing intellectual support in our joint response to environment degradation, climate change, and other global challenges. Third, such exchange on value and the spirit of law could promote mutual understanding and friendship and consolidate the basis for the long-term and stable development of China-EU ties.

Aristotle said more than 2,300 years ago that law is order and good law is good order. The very purpose of our discussion today is to build a good order in environment protection, which perfectly fits into the policy objective of the Chinese government. With the scientific outlook on development at the core of decision making, the Chinese government has in recent years, taken important measures in the following three aspects to pursue economic and social progress.

First, environment protection. Today in China, protecting environment is regarded as a basic national policy. We started to build our environment protection system from a very humble beginning less than two decades ago. Over the years, we have made fast and encouraging progress. Today, we have not only the will to make greater efforts against pollution, but also stronger capacity to do so. We have accelerated the speed in closing down backward production facilities, and the growing impact of environment degradation has been basically put under control. China is taking active measures to address climate change and leading initiatives in alternative and renewable energies and afforestation and reforestation, which is an important contribution to global environment protection.

Second, the rule of law. We always believe that a law based society and universal legal education are the preconditions for economic growth and social welfare, and they constitute the basis for lasting peace and stability of a country. China has moved a long way, particularly over the last 30 years, in strengthening the rule of law. Our current legal system includes 233 national laws, more than 680 State Council regulations, and over 9,000 local acts, many of which are related to environment protection. These documents provide us an effective insurance to build a law based society with social harmony and lasting stability.

Third, sustainable development. Environment protection receives as much attention from the Chinese government as the economic development does. We regard sustainable development as a matter of national strategy because we know very well that we cannot seek development by repeating “pollution first, treatment later”, which was the misstep of the West. It is against the world trend and does not suit the national conditions of China. Therefore, in China, we have integrated the goal of building an energy-saving and environment friendly society in our mid and long-term plan for economic and social development. At the international level, we have also made a solemn commitment to cut the CO2 emissions per unit of GDP by 40%-45% by year 2020 off the year 2005 level.

To be sure, we still have a lot to do in this cause. The shortfalls we have in environment protection and loopholes in the relevant legal system are closely associated with our current development level. And we are looking forward to continued intellectual and academic support from experts and scholars like you as we move further to resolve these problems.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

For many friends in Europe, the knowledge of China is mostly confined to the grand opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games and the Shanghai World Expo. Some might also look at China as the world’s second largest economy. But, the total size of the GDP and cities like Beijing and Shanghai only represent a part of China that is relatively developed. China is still a developing country with many backward regions. The latest IMF data recorded a 3,678 USD per capita GDP in China, ranking the world’s 100th place, equivalent to only 8% of Belgium’s level. 150 million Chinese are still living below the poverty line, spending less than one US dollar a day. I believe a personal visit to a country will promote thorough understanding of a nation. Not long ago, while High Representative Ashton was in China, she paid a visit to the Guizhou Province in the western part of the country. The visit left her deep impression. What she saw is another side of China. She saw China in great diversity and facing enormous development challenges. It is my hope that our friends in Europe could visit China more often and know more about our country. I hope that this symposium will serve a window of understanding and a bridge of academic exchanges between China and Europe, particularly between law experts and scholars.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The day after tomorrow, we will be celebrating the traditional Chinese holiday, the Mid-Autumn Festival. It is a day of unity, harmony, happiness and harvest. On this occasion, I wish the symposium a complete success and everyone happy holiday!

Thank you.

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