By Simon Rowedder,
M.A. student of Asia-Pacific International Relations , Xiamen University
At the 12th EU-China Summit held in Nanjing on 30 November 2009 the year 2011 was designated as the EU-China Year of Youth with a view to "further promoting and deepening the partnership between Europe and China". A joint plan for the Year of Youth, signed on October 6 2010 between Androulla Vassiliou, EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, and Lu Yongzeng, Vice President of the All-China Youth Federation (ACYF), set the general framework for joined activities for the whole year, thereby working under following objectives:
· promote intercultural dialogue and strengthen mutual understanding and friendship between European and Chinese youth,
- encourage young people to care about and support the development of EU-China relations
· achieve extensive and positive impact and help ensure that cooperation between policy makers as well as between youth organizations is sustainable beyond 2011.
To achieve these objectives various kinds of activities were organized throughout the year both in China and in the EU, with seven “flagship events” as the big, official highlights involving high-level attendances. Thus, the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao himself held a speech at the pompous opening ceremony in Beijing in February this year.
I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to participate in the Closing Events of this youth year from October 21-26 in Beijing and Tianjin, which was also the last flagship event. 100 youth delegates from each the China- and the EU-side were invited.
Actually, I just heard from this event on a very short notice when the Delegation of the European Union to China made a final call for 20 youth delegates who are currently based in China and ideally, but not essentially, representing European youth organizations. So, most of the other 80 delegates who all flew to China directly from Europe were nominated by their respective youth organizations as on the European side the Year of Youth was organized through the European Youth Forum, which represents 98 National Youth Councils and International Youth Organizations from across Europe.
Only 10 days before the event I got the good news that I have been selected as one of the China-based participants, also representing the non-profit cultural exchange organization AFS Intercultural Programs.
The actual content-related meeting of the closing events was the “EU-China Youth Leaders Summit” from October 22-24 in Beijing, but for the EU-delegation a wider program was planned, including different tours through Beijing the day before and a two-day trip to Tianjin after the summit.
But before explaining this program in detail, I should start from the very beginning.
The first surprise was the accommodation and the venue where the whole event took place:
We stayed at the Grand Skylight CATIC Hotel, which is situated directly next to the Olympic Stadium, the “Bird’s Nest”, and the surrounding Olympic Park. Some people even were lucky enough to have a direct view of the stadium from their rooms. During the Olympic Games in 2008 it hosted many athletes from around the world. So again, this hotel became a venue of worldwide friendships among the youth.
The accommodation could only be topped by the site of the summit – the Olympic Broadcasting Tower where we could, besides interesting discussions, enjoy breathtaking views of the Olympic complex.
Before I could enjoy this brilliant atmosphere during the summit, I had had an interesting day in Beijing.
In the morning I could make it to the first group which went to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to have a talk with the Counselor and especially his young colleagues of the Department of European Affairs. Alternate choices covered by other groups were going to the Beijing Foreign Studies University, an environmental protection company or the China Youth Daily. Being at the Department of European Affairs, the staff introduction was fascinating as almost all could speak at least another European language fluently besides English. Although the time was very limited due to their busy schedule, we EU delegates had at least some space for asking questions and discussing several current issues. The friendliness and openness which with they approached us were refreshing and motivating and quite surprising to at least some of us.
The afternoon was not that exciting for me personally as all sightseeing tours went to places to which I all have been to before. Nevertheless, to explore the Forbidden City with many interesting people from different corners of Europe was another thing and let me forget that I had been to that place for more than three times.
After having got to know each other among the Europeans the Chinese delegates arrived in the evening to attend the official reception by the host, the All-China Youth Federation. Unfortunately, just a few showed up so that a real first dialogue could not fully happen. But this should change soon…
The actual summit, which followed after an exhausting first day and a rather short night, started with a formal plenary session before all delegates were divided into four thematic clusters, each at a separate floor of the Broadcasting Tower, touching upon issues both relevant for China and the EU:
1) The role of young people in an ageing society,
2) Young people, a multi-polar world and the role of regional organizations
3) Climate change and sustainable development
4) Youth entrepreneurship/Business Leaders of the Future.
As I am especially interested in and my proposed Master thesis will deal with regionalization processes I chose the second cluster.
After the keynote speeches from Mr. Cui Hongjian, Director of the Department for EU Studies at the China Institute for International Studies, hypothesizing EU’s role as a potential central pole of a multipolar world order, and Ms Frauke Austermann, a German PhD candidate of Renmin University/Free University of Berlin, providing a general, historical overview of European Integration, the discussions could finally begin in small working groups mainly around two questions:
1) What are the main challenges China and Europe face at international level and which role
can their strategic partnership and cooperation play?
2) What is the role of young people and youth organizations in this context?
Quickly it became clear how complicated the regional structure of the EU is so that it was a tough task for many Europeans to explain it to the Chinese. Sometimes an outsider’s perspective could be more helpful so that we were amazed having some Chinese students being able to explain the EU to Europeans. Surely, there were also some Europeans knowing much about Chinese regional policy, maybe more than about their home region. But this is a special situation as many of the delegates are studying specifically other regions, Europeans researching on China or generally Asia and Chinese studying Europe and the EU.
Anyhow, we agreed that we were just a very special group and that normally mutual knowledge and understanding of each other between Europeans and Chinese is not developed that well which we agreed on to change, keeping in mind that both regions face several common challenges. We listed, for instance, the self-assertion towards the USA, climate change, an aging society and regional disparities (within China and the EU) as common challenges. Developments which to a certain degree challenge the relationship between the EU and China could be, for example, the issue of intellectual property rights, the power-shifting proposal of Chinese financial support to the EU or in general cultural misunderstandings leading to a moral bias in viewing the respective counterpart.
From these challenges many strategic opportunities emerge, especially if realizing and fully utilizing China’s and the EU’s common interests worldwide. All working groups came to the conclusion that increasing communication, mutual understanding and intercultural dialogue fostered through improved education measures and increased academic and cultural youth exchanges are the most crucial tools to face those aforementioned challenges. In this context, the Chinese delegates often came up with a quote from Chairman Mao Zedong: (for some Europeans it might have felt too often, but this is about intercultural learning)
“The world is yours, as well as ours, but in the last analysis, it is yours. You young people, full of vigor and vitality, are in the bloom of life, like the sun at eight or nine in the morning. Our hope is placed on you.”
We expressed our deep hope that the youth dialogue between China and the EU will not end after this fancy summit, but continue in a sustainable way through diverse channels, especially through the media and innovative online platform solutions.
The final results of our discussions were meant to be, together with the results from the other three clusters, part of an official Joint Statement of the EU-China Youth Leaders, which had been planned to be submitted in a high-level ceremony directly, among others, to the president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, one day before the 14th China-EU Summit in Tianjin on October 25 should take place, at which the EU-China Year of Youth was planned to be officially closed. Unfortunately, we had to receive the disappointing news that the EU-China Summit would be postponed due to the tight schedule of the EU leaders struggling with the EU debt crisis in Brussels.
Nevertheless, the world of international politics is flexible so that the EU Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth, Androulla Vassiliou, travelled to China in order to receive together with Lu Yongzhen, the Vice-President of the All-China Youth Federation, the Joint Statement. In order to have at least a bit of an international and ceremonial atmosphere, some European ambassadors also joined the ceremony, accompanied with intensive media coverage.
As also mentioned in the Joint Statement, Androulla Vassiliou stressed the utmost importance of people-to-people contacts within the EU-China relations, seeing this past year as the fundamental beginning of a fruitful long-term cooperation extending to many other fields:
“The EU-China Year of Youth has given us the chance to deepen dialogue and cooperation in many different areas. Now we have a joint responsibility to build on its achievements and take them forward."
She furthermore pointed to the EU-China Year of Intercultural Dialogue starting next year, which can draw on the positive experiences from this year.
After the official ending of the EU-China Year of Youth a two-day trip to Tianjin followed for the European delegates although the Tianjin-Summit had been cancelled. Anyhow, we could still enjoy the warm hospitality of the Chinese organizers. In Tianjin we visited the Tianjin Planning Exhibition Hall which displays the tremendous development and the impressing future ambitions of Tianjin. In the afternoon we found time for shopping in the ancient cultural street and visited the famous Shi Family Mansion (“Shijia Dayuan”).
Finally, the last evening in Tianjin served as the official closing of the EU-China Year of Youth, which was celebrated in the original, first “Goubuli restaurant”, now with branches all over China selling its famous baozi. The mayor of Tianjin also took the opportunity to send his warm greetings to us. Impressed by the display of all the past and ongoing economic development, the president of the European Youth Forum, Peter Matjašič, also expressed his hope that those developments are also paralleled with the necessary measures of social development.
After having shortly reflected the year in several official speeches, the informal part of the evening could start for which plenty of tasty baozi, fruity wine and refreshing beer were are great help!
The following last day ended with a tour through the Binhai New Area, the major economic development zone of Tianjin, and to Tianjin port before we headed back to Beijing from where the European delegates flew to their home countries or their home cities in China.
All in all, I can look back at a very exciting and unforgettable week with vivid, insightful, sometimes emotional and controversial discussions and debates with very interesting, friendly, open and curious young people from different backgrounds and places from China and the EU. Of course, it can be said that the actual summit with 2 ½ days out of 6 days were much too short to develop a profound dialogue based on intensive, substantial exchanges of views and opinions and many items of the overall agenda were rather ceremonial, formal and symbolic. But this is the nature of big “flagship events”, which should also attract the interest of the public especially through media coverage. Therefore, I’m not disappointed about that fact as some apparently were. I still could take many impressions from fascinating, socially, politically, culturally and economically engaged young people, realize differences and commonalities of opinions through dialogue and make many, hopefully also long-lasting, friendships.
Especially the hospitality and the refreshing openness of the Chinese organizers and delegates make me confident about future possibilities of fruitful dialogue and cooperation between the Chinese and European youth.
I deeply hope that the Closing Events of the EU-China Year of Youth marked the end only of an official activity, but just kicked off the beginning of a long, prosperous future of trustful relation.
As one of the EU delegates put it: This Year of Youth with its flagship events was only the Valentine’s Day of the EU-China relation.There is still much potential in the future to which the European students at Xiamen University can also actively contribute.
For more information:
EU-China Year of Youth: http://www.2011euchinayouth.eu/
EU-China Youth Leaders Statement (full text): http://www.2011euchinayouth.eu/sites/default/files/content/news/EU-China%20Youth%20Leaders%20Statement.pdf
All-China Youth Federation: http://www.acyf.org.cn/
European Youth Forum: http://www.youthforum.org/