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Speech by Minister De Gucht on the occasion of the handing over of Strebelle's sculpture
2008-06-06 00:00


I am here to show that the Belgian people share the joy and the pride of the Chinese people at the designation of their country to host the Olympic Games.

But we are friends, and we can also share your grief in hard times. This is certainly the case after the dramatic earthquake that has just hit vast regions of your country, resulting in the loss of so many lives. My thoughts go to the victims and their families, as well as to all those, members of the civil defence, the police and armed forces, and the many volunteers who have taken charge, with remarkable dedication, of rescue operations. The speed and the openness, both toward its own people and the international community, with which the Chinese government reacted to this disaster, are remarkable. The Belgian Government has decided to allocate a substantial amount, at least by the modest standards of our small country, as a contribution to these operations.

It is a privilege to officially hand over Olivier Strebelle's monumental sculpture «Athletes' alley », to the Beijing municipality and to the Chinese people. I also wish to thank wholeheartedly the Beijing authorities for all the hard work they have done to prepare for the erection of this sculpture, and the Belgian and international sponsors, operating through the "Strebelle in Beijing 2008" committee, for their generous financial support: Belgacom, Baron Vastpane, CMB, Euronav, Suez , Total, Domo, Inbev, Janssen Pharmaceutica, Delhaize Group, Loterie Nationale, UCB, D'Ieteren and Hainan Airlines

Olivier Strebelle is a great artist, well-known in our country and abroad. His works can be admired in Jerusalem, the United States, in Moscow, in Germany, and, in 2001, no less than 30 of his monumental sculptures were exhibited at the prestigious Place Vendôme in Paris.

The Athletes' Alley is a remarkable illustration of the Olympic ideals, which combine the individual's urge to go beyond his limits, with a rich human and social dimension. The integration of his works in their environment has always been uppermost in Olivier Strebelle's mind. The Athletes' Alley was indeed designed to blend perfectly with the Olympic site. This site will remain, long after the Games are over, a favourite place for the people of Beijing to meet with their families, friends and guests. Contributing this fine sculpture to the Olympic Park is the best tribute that can be paid to the remarkable efforts of the Chinese people to achieve the aim they and their leaders have explicitly set themselves: building not only a prosperous and advanced, but also, and maybe most importantly, a harmonious society.

The development of China has been impressive. Especially economic development has enabled hundreds of millions of Chinese to escape poverty, and to gain access to education and other essential services. Since reforms were initiated some 30 years ago, Chinese society has significantly opened-up and modernised. Let me express the hope that China will match this development with further progress in the fields of individual rights and cultural diversity.

All these developments enable China to play a more and more active part on the international stage, on which, for example, your country increasingly applies its moderating influence to help solve or prevent conflicts in some regions of the world, where efforts by China, the European Union and Belgium tend to converge more frequently. We have nothing to fear from the emergence of China on the world stage. On the contrary, we welcome it as a positive development that will contribute to a more balanced world.

Just as the Chinese society the people of this country work so hard to build, human society as a whole can only be harmonious if every nation finds its rightful place, commensurate with its demographic and economic weight, and with its cultural heritage. By each of these criteria, China's place can only be a very prominent one indeed.

I am sure the Chinese people will prove worthy of the trust the International Olympic Committee vested in them by selecting Beijing as the host of the Olympic Games. The Olympics will be a success as far as technical preparation and organisation are concerned, and they will be a unique opportunity for the Chinese people to display their well-known hospitality and to express their legitimate pride in the impressive progress of Chinese society in many fields. The Olympics will be a joyful occasion for the Chinese people, and, for the whole world, an intense moment of human fraternity.

Handing over the work of Olivier Strebelle is therefore a testimony of our sympathy, friendship and respect, and a concrete expression of our will to make our modest contribution to an event for which the Chinese people and their leaders have worked so hard. Let it also be a symbol of the excellent relations existing between our two countries.

To fully capture the beauty and harmony in Strebelles's sculpture, one has to look at it from a certain place and point of view – it is the same for the Olympics, which have to be looked at from the viewpoint of friendship and understanding between nations.

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