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Delivering a Better Life for the People is China's Development Goal

On June 9, 2021, Ambassador Zhang Ming, Head of the Chinese Mission to the European Union, attended by video the event on China-Europe relations organized by the College of Europe and delivered a speech entitled " Delivering a Better Life for the People is China's Development Goal". The full text is as follows:

Rector Federica Mogherini,

Dear Students and Faculty Members,

Good morning! It's a pleasure to meet you all. The College of Europe is a cradle of European political elites. As students of this prestigious school, you are closely associated with the future of Europe, the future of China-EU relations and the future of the world. It's my great pleasure to have the chance to exchange views with you.

I know many of you are interested in China. And perhaps you've already learned much about it from news reports or elsewhere. But today I want to talk about a China that may not be that familiar to you.

You may have heard from the news that three weeks ago, an elderly man passed away in China. The whole country was in grief. At his funeral, tens of thousands of citizens flocked to his hometown Changsha to pay their tributes. Flowers were sold out in the city. Outside China, including in Europe, his death and his legacy were widely covered. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres praised him as "a true food hero".

The food hero is Prof. Yuan Longping. You might wonder why the death of an old man was mourned not only in China, but also across the world. It's because Prof. Yuan, known as the father of hybrid rice, devoted his entire life searching for a way to feed not only people in China, but also those living in hunger across the globe.

I was born in China's Henan Province. It is the birthplace of the Chinese civilization and a major agricultural province. Having spent a few years living in the countryside when I was young, I'm deeply attached to the land and the people working on it. I came to know the importance of food to the people. To tell you something interesting and sad, some 30 years ago in my country, when people greeted each other, instead of saying "Good morning" or "Good evening", they would often ask "Have you eaten?". This demonstrates how poverty and starvation have influenced China's social customs.

In search of ways to save the nation from poverty, backwardness and imperial oppression, some dedicated patriots began their arduous exploration. Some of them were about your age at the time. But it was those progressives that established the Communist Party of China 100 years ago. By adapting Marxism to the Chinese context, they aimed to pursue a better life for the people and realize national independence and liberation. With the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, China ended the semi-colonial and semi-feudal history. The Chinese people finally bid farewell to wars and sufferings and started a new journey to build China into a socialist country.

Since then, China has been committed to peace and development in the past seven decades of the founding of New China, especially in the past four decades of reform and opening up. Well over one billion Chinese people, can now live a happy life without fear for lack of food or clothing.

To measure the development of a society, it is about the number of those lifted out of poverty, not the number of the rich. Thanks to our hard work, 850 million people were lifted out of poverty. There is no precedent like this in human history. The poverty reduction target of the UN 2030 Agenda was met 10 years in advance. And China has made a world of difference in its UN Human Development Index. Today the Chinese people, especially the younger generation, no longer greet each other by asking "Have you eaten?".

Just as what I said at the beginning, this is the China that may be unfamiliar to you. Today's China is not perfect, nor awful as described in some of the media. To let you know well about China, I'd like to make two points. First, China is a developing country with inadequate and unbalanced development. Second, its values and culture are deeply influenced by thousands of years of agrarian civilization.

China is a big country with a large population. There is still a huge gap between urban and rural development and among different regions. Our per capita GDP is less than one-third of the EU, ranking after the 60th in the world. The first industry still accounts for 7.7% in China's GDP, far behind that in developed countries. These numbers point to the fact that China remains a developing country. We aim to build China into a modern socialist country based on well-being, democracy, civilization, harmony and well-protected environment by the middle of this century. To put it simpler, it means that by 2050, we hope that the Chinese people can enjoy the same living standards as Europeans do today. This is indeed a great but challenging task. To make it happen, we will firmly uphold lasting peace in the world and promote a fair and open environment for international cooperation. This is not only China's policy, but also the Chinese people's strong belief.

To better understand China, it's necessary to look into the history. Both China and Europe have splendid civilizations. Unlike Europe's outward and mercantile maritime civilization, China had been an inward agrarian civilization, valuing family relationships and social connections formed in farming. It is precisely this kind of civilization that prevents China from seeking expansion outside its borders. Or you can say expansion is just not part of China's DNA. In ancient times, Chinese people need to harness collective strength to stand against natural disasters, thus gradually forming a deep-rooted idea that values the interests of the collective more than those of individuals. During the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States period some 2000 years ago (about the era of Socrates and Plato in Europe), collectivism grew into a central part of traditional Chinese values prevailing till today. These values are summarized by Confucius as "仁义礼智信", which could be translated into "benevolence, righteousness, good manners, wisdom and honesty", with "benevolence" at its core. By being benevolent, one needs to restrain him or herself and prioritize the needs of others out of love. This is similar to the value of fraternité in the West, but quite different from its individualism and values. However, the world we live in is a place of diversity. There are both commonalities and differences among different civilizations, cultures and values. They can well learn from but should never replace each other. Still less should there be any conflict. Some in Europe accuse China of being an "authoritarian" state. This may have to do with a lack of understanding about China's culture, history and reality, and its collectivist tradition. Such accusation fails to explain why over 90% of Chinese are satisfied with the government.

Dear Students,

Europe is a complex place. When I arrived here just one year later, I feel that I already knew enough about the EU. But four years later, I found I know too little about it. During my time here, I can feel that the EU's perception towards China is changing. This shift has been increasingly evident since the EU defined China as a cooperation partner, a competitor and a systemic rival in 2019. Since then, our differences have been exaggerated and systemic rivalry is increasingly prevalent in the EU's China narrative. But I, for one, would dare to disagree with this rivalry narrative. There will always be a loser in a rivalry. And it goes against the Chinese philosophy of "harmony without uniformity". What we want is win-win results. Competition is in itself not a bad thing, as long as it is fair and just. However, if it is fair competition we both want, then, for instance, how come Huawei was pushed out or even excluded from part of the European market. No credible explanations are offered so far. And nobody has given me any example on the so-called claims for forced technology transfer, which I am quite concerned about.

When it comes to China-EU cooperation, I always believe that there are more opportunities than challenges. This is evidenced by continued growth of bilateral trade and investment between the two sides, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. What worries me, however, is the general atmosphere. At the Munich Security Conference two weeks ago, Rector Mogherini raised a thought-provoking question: When global trends are shifting and the space of China-EU cooperation is narrowing, what is the basis for our cooperation ? And in what areas can we truly cooperate?

In my view, Prof. Yuan Longping's research on hybrid rice offers us a good answer. It is by drawing the strengths of different rice varieties that Prof. Yuan created super rice varieties. I believe that based on mutual respect and mutually beneficial cooperation, China and the EU will find a way to rise above our differences in systems and translate the differences into our strengths to help each other succeed together. Together, we can make super big things happen.

Thank you!

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