EU-China relationship going from strength to strength

People-to people dialogue is ever more important in these ‘challenging political and economic’ times, explains Androulla Vassiliou.

By Androulla Vassiliou

24 Sep 2014

Over the past decade, the European Union and China have begun to cooperate far more closely in education, training, culture, multilingualism and youth policy. Since 2012 our contacts in these areas have been integrated under the EU-China high level people-to-people dialogue (HPPD), the third pillar of EU-China relations, complementing the high level economic and trade dialogue and the high level strategic dialogue. The HPPD combines all EU-China joint initiatives in the field of people-to-people exchanges and aims to build trust and understanding between the two regions’ populations.

The first round of the HPPD in Brussels on 18 April 2012, which I participated in with vice-premier (then state councillor) Liu Yandong, resulted in the signing of the HPPD joint declaration and follow-up actions. On 25 April 2013, the first meeting of the higher education platform for cooperation and exchanges took place in Brussels. At the EU-China summit in Beijing on 21 November 2013, the two parties adopted the EU-China 2020 strategic agenda for cooperation; one of its four chapters is devoted to people-to people exchanges.

"The high-level people-to people dialogue is, in my view, now a cornerstone of the EU’s relationship with China and I am proud to have played my part in its development"

The visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping to Brussels earlier this year strongly contributed to strengthening links between the EU and China. President Xi delivered a speech at the College of Europe in Bruges, showing his conviction on the importance of education and his interest in themes related to European integration.

The second round of the EU-China HPPD took place in Beijing on 6 September. The dialogue was preceded by an HPPD conference with panels devoted to EU-China relations in the areas of education, culture and youth. I appreciated the warm welcome I received from vice-premier Liu Yandong – the meetings took place in a very friendly and constructive atmosphere.

Our meetings underlined the growing importance of people-to-people exchanges, notably in the context of the challenging global political and economic situation. In addition to confirming EU-China commitments for the future, we agreed to open up the dialogue to cover specific issues faced by women in the EU and China, including gender equality and efforts to address violence against women.

Vice-Premier Liu reiterated president Xi’s proposal for a “partnership of civilisations” with the EU to further encourage exchanges, mutual learning, harmony and co-existence. To stress the importance the Chinese attach to this dialogue, high representatives from the ministries of education, culture, foreign affairs, science and technology, finance, state administration of press, publication, radio, film and television, and the All China youth federation also participated in the meeting.

The bilateral event was followed by a meeting with Chinese students and the HPPD plenary session, which gathered all participants of earlier panels on education, culture and youth. Both the vice-premier and I read congratulatory letters from our respective presidents, gave speeches and signed the HPPD joint communiqué, in which both parties agree to deepen cooperation in education, research, mobility, culture, media, youth and women.

In the margins, a separate cooperation agreement was signed between the College of Europe and the Chinese government to increase scholarships for student exchanges and the Vrije universiteit Brussel inaugurated the Brussels academy of China and European studies. The HPPD was successful, not only in its formal aspects, but also due to the high quality of the discussions and an increased openness on the Chinese side in their desire to strengthen their performance in areas such as quality assurance and credit systems in higher education, and to learn from European experiences.

“The visit of Chinese president Xi Jinping to Brussels earlier this year strongly contributed to strengthening links between the EU and China”

Main areas for follow-up include how to concretely introduce the theme of gender in the dialogue. Regular meetings on specific themes from the dialogue are likely to be held in the coming years to ensure effective action on issues such as tuning (aimed at increasing the compatibility of education systems and overcoming obstacles to mobility), quality assurance and the involvement of more Chinese higher education institutions in the international university ranking system, U-multirank

 The high-level people-to-people dialogue is, in my view, now a cornerstone of the EU’s relationship with China and I am proud to have played my part in its development. In a world which is increasingly interdependent, it is crucial that we bring people together to solve challenges we have in common and deepen understanding and friendship.

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