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Speech by Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck on seminar: Business and Investment in China(2005-04-21)
2005-06-07 00:00

Speech by Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck on seminar: Business and Investment in China

Your Excellency Mister Ambassador,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I have gladly accepted the offer to give a welcome address at this seminar because it gives me an opportunity to express my fascination and admiration for the giant undertaking the Chinese people have embarked upon: the modernisation of their magnificent country whose recorded history goes back several thousands of years.

Like so many Belgians I discovered China in Herge's famous "The Blue Lotus". As the Tintin fans know, Herge himself never went to China, but he had a Chinese friend, Mister Tchang. Be that as it may, he succeeded so well in capturing the atmosphere of Chinese streets and cities that I experienced a strange feeling of recognition and familiarity when I first came to China in 1984. when I wondered where the recognition came from, I realised that it went back indeed to the vignettes in The Blue Lotus. No such experience awaits the China traveller nowadays, because China has undergone and still is undergoing changes of unparalleled magnitude. One may regret the disappearance of most ancient city-and landscapes, but one must realise that the Chinese are just entitled to enjoy the amenities of modern daily life as we are.

I have visited China four times: in 1984,in 1997,in 2002 and in 2003. The shock was greatest in 1997.Some places had changed almost beyond recognition, and it took me some time to realise that the 17th century astronomy observatory in Beijing had not disappeared, but had been dwarfed by all the surrounding high rises and fly over.

The other great change I experienced was in the meetings with the many officials I saw in the capital and in Shangai. In 1984 such meetings did not go far beyond the conventions of cautious reassurances of our respective attachment to world peace andd friendships between our peoples.

Since 1997 however, I have experienced a growing openness and frankness during such meetings. Nowadays, real exchanges of opinions and frank discussions on most issues are not only possible, they are generally welcomed. Mutual respect is of course the key. Differences of opinions are accepted and heard, provided again that such differences are expressed respectfully.

You may be surprised that I ,being a liberal, am so positive towards a nation that still lives under the rule of a single party, and what is more, a communist party.

That is because I believe that never before in their long history, so many Chinese people, such large segments of the Chinese population have enjoyed so much freedom as they do today. And that is no small achievement.

What is more, China is liberalising her economy at a speed that is truly awesome.

By joining the World Trade Organization, China has underwritten the international rules governing world trade. This membership brings advantages, and obligations. Those are not always observed as strictly as we would wish. As you know, there are problems especially concerning intellectual property rights and sanitary and phytosanitary rules.

China did bristle when the European Union forbade the imports of seafood products in which traces of antibiotics had been found. We were able to explain that this was not the case, the less so as China herself had banned the use of the very same antibiotics.

Such differences are bound to happen, and both Chinese and European lawyers will be called upon time and again to try to sort them out and settle them.

By joining the World Trade Organization, China has accepted a huge set of rules, and she will be held to account on the degree and speed of implementing them. The same of course, applies to ourselves.

Those of you already familiar with China, know that the Chinese women and men are extremely eager to learn, and that they learn fast. Those of you contemplating to do business in China must realize that you will encounter sophisticated partners, generally well versed in the art of negotiation ,and in the subtleties of economic and political diplomacy. You will also learn that the tradition of secrecy, of unmotivated changes of mind is still alive. There is a lot of progress, but the recognition of the necessity to observe the rule of law at every level of government is not yet general nor permanent.

That should hardly surprise us, as the lawmaking process itself is still cloaked in mystery, although there also, progress is undeniable.

This, by the way, certainly is the greatest challenge to present day Chinese leaders: to adjust the political decision-making process to the growing economic emancipation of the Chinese people.

The process,however, is under way and I for one hope that will succeed.

Ladies and Gentlemen, it is time to conclude. I wish you a fruitful seminar, and success in your business undertakings.

Annemie Neyts-Uyttebroeck

21 April 2004

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