Europe and China must "invest more in the great potential of our people-to-people relations" to fully benefit from their strategic partnership, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso said this morning (6 October) at a press conference alongside Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.
Topics to be addressed at the first-ever EU-China High Level Cultural Forum, which is taking place in Brussels on 6-7 October as part of a wider EU-China summit, include dealing with globalisation, and considering different worldviews, types of modernisation and concepts of beauty.
"We need a bridge between our peoples and cultures that will help us understand and learn from each other. The Forum provides that bridge and ensures cultural cooperation can take a more prominent place in our relations," said Commission President Barroso, speaking at the launch of the forum today.
Relations between the EU and China have been marred recently by fears of an impending global currency war (see 'Background').
On Tuesday, top eurozone leaders including European Central Bank chief Jean-Claude Juncker and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde pressed China for a faster appreciation of its currency to help rebalance the world economy (EurActiv 06/10/10).
Attendees of this week's forum include EU Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou, Mr Cai Wu, minister of culture of the People’s Republic of China, Fadila Laana, culture and audiovisual minister for the French Community in Belgium, and philosophers Umberto Eco and Qiu Xigui.
Wen hails 'long history of cultural interflow'
Describing the launch of the forum as "a step forward in overall EU-China relations, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said "culture is a bridge that brings together hearts and minds and creates a bond between states".
"It has a longer-lasting impact than economic exchanges and has an enduring influence on the way we live," Mr Wen said, citing the Silk Road and the journeys of Marco Polo as examples of the "long history of cultural interflow" between Europe and China.
The Chinese premier acknowledged that Chinese and European cultures were very different from one another, but insisted that both were "open and welcoming".
"In the new century, China has worked with greater openness to develop cultural exchanges with EU countries," said Mr Wen, citing the Year of France, the Year of Italy and the Year of Spain as recent examples from his homeland, as well as the Europalia year in Belgium.
"China advocates full respect for the traditions and cultures of other countries. We want an open and inclusive approach to different civilisations. We want enduring peace and common prosperity," Mr Wen said.
"We need to encourage exchanges between our cultural industries, and we need to mobilise young people to ensure that EU-China cultural relations develop even further in the future," the Chinese premier added.
Cultural industries are responsible for 2.6% of the EU’s GDP: more than the food and tobacco industries put together.
Echoing his prime minister, Chinese culture minister Mr Cai said "we are well aware that the rise of a country requires cultural as well as economic development".
This forum is not the first time that the EU and China have tried to improve cultural exchange.
Last year, the first EU-China Cultural Industries Forum gathered officials from the Chinese government and the European Commission and experts from Europe and China's cultural industries in the Chinese city of Shenzhen (15-18 May 2009; see EurActiv 19/05/09).
Barroso expressed hope that this week's high-level cultural forum would become an annual event, hosted alternately in Europe and China.
"The EU-China commercial and economic relationship is one of the most important in the world and has become a major source of wealth, jobs, development and innovation for both sides. It is right that we should also focus our efforts on expanding our relationship in other areas," said European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, speaking at the launch of the first EU-China High Level Cultural Forum today.
"We have to reach out to our peoples and bring them together through projects that will contribute to enhancing mutual understanding, respect and trust," he added.
"Europe and China represent two old civilisations, with long histories and cultures. Both have made great contributions to social progress and cultural development. They are birthplaces to many eminent thinkers, philosophers, and artists whose great achievements had become part of the spiritual heritage of mankind," Barroso said.
"The first EU-China High Level Cultural Forum provides an excellent framework for an open dialogue on the ancestral values of the two civilisations, and on their ethical and aesthetic foundations. Yet at the same time it will address current social and cultural concerns of both EU and China and provide a platform for a reinvigorated cultural dialogue," the Commission president explained.
"I hope the Cultural Forum will become an annual event like the Business Summit," he added.
"Modern European culture has found an enthusiastic audience in China," said Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, citing long lines of Chinese visitors outside EU countries’ pavilions at the Shanghai Expo this year and the huge popularity of language courses at cultural institutes like the Goethe Institute and the British Council as examples.
"We need to make our cultural exchanges extensive, in-depth and enduring," Mr Wen added.
"Today represents a milestone in cultural relations between the European Union and China. World renowned scholars, artists and experts are gathered here to discuss globalisation and how culture can play a positive role," said EU Culture Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou at today’s launch.
"Europe and China share common goals. We both want peace and prosperity for the people of our countries and the rest of the world. Our cultural richness uplifts and unites us. In a globalised world, our cultural diversity is an asset not an obstacle. It makes our lives richer and helps us grow and live in harmony with one another," Vassiliou said.
"Today's event will lay the ground for further cooperation. It will help prepare the EU-China Year of Intercultural Dialogue in 2012. We see the Forum as central to our cultural cooperation and would like to establish it as an annual event alternating between Europe and China," the commissioner said.
"But in addition to our official contacts, I am convinced that if we continue our efforts to promote direct contacts between our peoples, we will improve our understanding of one another and be better equipped to take on the challenges ahead," she added.
"History has shown us how strength of thoughts and culture can change a people’s destiny," said Mr Cai Wu, minister of culture of the People’s Republic of China.
"Let us start with culture in strengthening our mutual understanding," Mr Cai added.
"Culture is a vector for our identities and citizenship, but also our economic development," said Fadila Laana, culture and audiovisual minister for the French Community in Belgium.
"The growth rate of European cultural industries is one of Europe’s highest," said Laana, adding that she had no doubt about "the benefits for all of us that will flow from the first ever High Level EU-China Cultural Forum".
- 2011: EU-China Year of Youth.
- 2012: EU-China Year of Intercultural Dialogue.