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".

'Greater openness'

"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.