The China-EU high-level People-to-People Dialogue Forum will be held in Beijing in September. Following Chinese President Xi Jinping's recent European trip, what specific measures can be taken to promote stronger education and cultural exchanges between China and Europe? And how will such communication benefit the comprehensive ties between the two sides? Brussels-based correspondent Liu Ge of the People’s Daily talked to Education, Culture, Multilingualism, Sport, Media and Youth Commissioner Androulla Vassiliou.
Liu: As one of the most important pillars of China-EU relations, the China-EU High-Level People-to-People Dialogue (HPPD) has been running for almost two years since 2012. How would you evaluate its role?
Vassiliou: The EU-China High-Level People-to-People Dialogue constitutes what we call the 'third pillar' of EU-China relations, complementing the High-Level Economic and Trade Dialogue and the High-Level Strategic Dialogue. Since its start, the HPPD has already launched a range of joint initiatives, including the EU-China Year of Intercultural Dialogue in 2012 and support for stronger co-operation between universities on the two sides. The dialogue is helping build understanding and trust by bringing people together so that they can get to know each other's culture, share ideas and work together on common projects. I think we are gradually developing a common language, if you like, while respecting our diversity.
In the past two years, what specific achievements have been made under the HPPD framework?
In education, we have set up a Higher Education Platform for Cooperation and Exchange to tackle issues of mutual interest and share new ideas. We have also implemented the China Tuning project, aimed at identifying and jointly defining learning outcomes so that we can better compare our education systems. This in turn will help students and teachers to move more easily between the two regions. In the area of multilingualism, we have supported the training of 18 Chinese professors in lesser-spoken EU languages, and promoted the Chinese Interpreter Training Programme. A language training scheme was also offered by the Chinese government to EU officials. Some 30 officials took part in 2013, and a further 25 are expected to participate in 2014 and 2015 respectively. In culture, we funded a number of joint projects as part of the 2012 EU-China Year of Intercultural Dialogue, and organized an online EU Film Festival in China. In the youth sector, we have organized joint seminars on youth work and entrepreneurship and have encouraged cooperation between organizations in the youth sector, such as the All China Youth Federation and the European Youth Forum, as well as their member organizations.
As commissioner in charge of youth affairs in the EU, what is your perspective of the young generation in the EU and China?
Through the new programs and the follow-up of the HPPD and Higher Education Platform for Cooperation and Exchange, as well as, in particular, the China Tuning project, we will open up new opportunities for the young generation in both the EU and China. China and the EU will also expand opportunities for mobility in education and increase the number of exchanges of students, academics as well as researchers. We will work together to improve the mutual recognition of academic qualifications. This will help open the minds and horizons of both Chinese and EU youth, through a better understanding of each other and enhanced language and intercultural skills. Ultimately this leads to better employment opportunities. The 2011 EU-China Year of Youth already included seven flagship events, 27 joint youth projects and hundreds of other activities aimed at creating partnership and friendship. The same is true for the 40-plus joint co-operation projects funded under the Youth in Action Program in the past three years. We will continue to promote this approach. We look forward to welcoming more Chinese students to Europe over the next few years, and we hope that a large number of Europeans will come to China and expand their horizons as a result.
You will visit China to chair the second Meeting of the HPPD in Beijing. What are your goals for this important meeting? What do you expect to achieve during your trip to China?
The second round of the HPPD will take stock of our achievements so far and agree on future action. The dialogue will help promote the EU's new programs for education, training and youth and the parts of the new Horizon 2020 research program under my responsibility. We will discuss higher education internationalization strategies, fine-tune our approach to cultural diplomacy and promote the contribution of culture to local development.
US and China positions at a standstill in entrenched Tianjin talks
With no indication of a US-China leaders' summit in the works, nor any outcomes announced from high-level diplomatic talks on Monday (26 July), relations between Beijing and Washington appear to be at a standstill as both sides insist the other must make concessions for ties to improve, write Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom.
US officials had stressed that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman's trip to the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin to meet Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials was a chance to ensure that stiffening competition between the two geopolitical rivals does not veer into conflict.
But the combative statements that emerged from the meeting – albeit coupled with suggestions from officials that closed-door sessions were marginally more cordial – mirrored the tone set in Alaska in March, when the first senior-level diplomatic talks under President Joe Biden were overshadowed by rare public vitriol from both sides.
While Tianjin did not expose the same degree of outward hostility that was on display in Alaska, the two sides appeared to stop short of actually negotiating anything, sticking instead to lists of established demands.
Sherman pressed China on actions Washington says run counter to the rules-based international order, including Beijing's crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, what the U.S. government has deemed is an ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, abuses in Tibet and the curtailing of press freedoms.
"I think it'd be wrong to characterize the United States as somehow seeking or soliciting China's cooperation," a senior U.S. administration official told reporters after the talks, referring to global concerns such as climate change, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.
"It is going to be up to the Chinese side to determine how ready they are as well to… take the next step," a second U.S. administration official said of bridging disagreements.
But Wang insisted in a statement that the ball was in the United States' court.
"When it comes to respecting international rules, it is the United States that must think again," he said, demanding that Washington remove all unilateral sanctions and tariffs on China.
China's Foreign Ministry has recently signaled there could be preconditions for the United States on which any kind of co-operation would be contingent, a stance some analysts say is a recipe for diplomatic ossification and that leaves dim prospects for improved ties.
Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said it was important for the two sides to maintain some form of engagement. At the same time, there appeared to be no agreement in Tianjin for follow-up meetings or mechanisms for ongoing dialogue.
"That will probably leave US allies and partners uneasy. They are hoping for greater stability and predictability in the US-China relationship," Glaser said.
Both sides are likely to be disappointed if they expect the other to give in first, she added.
There has been some expectation in foreign policy circles that Biden could meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first time since becoming president on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Italy in October.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the prospect of a Biden-Xi meeting did not come up in Tianjin, though she added that she expects there will be some opportunity to engage at some point.
Indications are, meanwhile, that the Biden administration may scale up both enforcement actions impacting Beijing – such as cracking down on Iranian oil sales to China – and coordination with allies in the context of countering China, including another summit later this year that Biden is keen to host with the leaders of Japan, Australia, and India.
Biden's White House also has given few signals that it intends to roll back tariffs on Chinese goods established under the Trump administration.
At the same time, cooperation on the COVID-19 pandemic seems almost entirely out of reach, with the United States calling Beijing's rejection of a World Health Organization plan for further study of the virus' origin "irresponsible" and "dangerous".
There has been little sign either of a willingness by China to cooperate with Washington on the climate issue, a priority for Biden, despite energetic entreaties by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.
"What was on display in Tianjin is that both sides are still very far apart on how they view the value and role of diplomatic engagement," said Eric Sayers, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
Scott Kennedy, a China specialist at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies,, said neither side saw much upside for now in being more cooperative.
"And there's no low-hanging fruit for cooperation for either side and any gesture toward co-operation actually comes with significant costs, both domestic and strategic," he said.
"I think we ought to have very low expectations about the two sides finding common ground and stabilizing the relationship in the near future."
Chinese president Xi Jinping visits troubled region of Tibet
President Xi Jinping (pictured) has visited the politically troubled region of Tibet, the first official visit by a Chinese leader in 30 years, writes BBC.
The president was in Tibet from Wednesday to Friday, but the visit only reported by state media on Friday due to the sensitivities of the trip.
China is accused of suppressing cultural and religious freedom in the remote and mainly Buddhist region.
The government denies the accusations.
In footage released by state broadcaster CCTV, Mr Xi was seen greeting a crowd wearing ethnic costumes and waving the Chinese flag as he left his plane.
He arrived in Nyingchi, in the south-east of the country and visited a number of locations to learn about urban development, before travelling to the capital Lhasa on the high-altitude railway.
While in Lhasa, Mr Xi visited the Potala Palace, the traditional home of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
People in the city had "reported unusual activities and monitoring of their movement" ahead of his visit, advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet said on Thursday.
Mr Xi last visited the region 10 years ago as vice-president. The last sitting Chinese leader to officially visit Tibet was Jiang Zemin in 1990.
State media said Mr Xi took time to learn about the work being done on ethnic and religious affairs and the work done to protect Tibetan culture.
Many exiled Tibetans accuse Beijing of religious repression and eroding their culture.
Tibet has had a tumultuous history, during which it has spent some periods functioning as an independent entity and others ruled by powerful Chinese and Mongolian dynasties.
China sent in thousands of troops to enforce its claim on the region in 1950. Some areas became the Tibetan Autonomous Region and others were incorporated into neighbouring Chinese provinces.
China says Tibet has developed considerably under its rule, but campaign groups say China continues to violate human rights, accusing it of political and religious repression.
More Tibetan Buddhists behind bars in July
On 6 July 2021, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetans, the Dalai Lama, turned 86. For Tibetans around the world, the Dalai Lama remains their guardian; a symbol of compassion and hope to restore peace in Tibet, and ensure genuine autonomy through peaceful means. For Beijing, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who seeks to undermine China’s integrity by pursuing an independent Tibet, write Dr Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy and Willy Fautré.
As a consequence, Beijing considers any country engaging with the spiritual leader or raising the situation in Tibet as interference in its internal affairs. Similarly, Beijing does not allow Tibetans to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Moreover, the communist government in Beijing applies harsh punishment for any such attempt, just as it continues its campaign to undermine the Tibetan language, culture and religion, as well as the rich history through brutal repression.
For year Beijing has continued to discredit and subvert the Dalai Lama. Displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo, public celebrations and sharing of his teaching via mobile phones or social media are often harshly punished. This month, as they celebrated the Dalai Lama’s birthday many Tibetans were arrested according to Golog Jigme, a former Tibetan political prisoner now living in Switzerland.
As such, Chinese officials in Sichuan province arrested two Tibetans. Kunchok Tashi and Dzapo, in their 40s, were taken into custody in Kardze in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). They were arrested on suspicion of being part of a group of social media that encouraged the reciting of Tibetan prayers to commemorate their spiritual leader’s birthday.
Over the past years, the Chinese authorities have continued to intensify pressure on Tibetans, punishing cases of ‘political subversion’. In 2020, the Chinese authorities in Tibet sentenced four Tibetan monks to long prison terms following a violent raid by the police on their monastery in Tingri county.
The cause of the raid was the discovery of a cell phone, owned by Choegyal Wangpo, a 46-year-old monk at Tingri’s Tengdro monastery, with messages sent to monks living outside Tibet and records of financial contributions made to a monastery in Nepal damaged in a 2015 earthquake, according to a Human Rights Watch report. Choegyal was arrested, interrogated and severely beaten. Following this development, police and other security forces visited his home village of Dranak, raided the place and beat more Tengdro monks and villagers, detaining about 20 of them on suspicion of having exchanged messages with other Tibetans abroad or of having possessed photographs or literature related to the Dalai Lama.
Three days after the raid, in September 2020, a Tengdro monk named Lobsang Zoepa took his own life in apparent protest against the crackdown by the authorities. Soon after his suicide internet connections to the village were cut off. Most of the monks detained were held without trial for months, some are believed to have been released on the condition of committing to not carrying out any political acts.
Three monks were not released. Lobsang Jinpa, 43, deputy head of the monastery, Ngawang Yeshe, 36 and Norbu Dondrub, 64. They were subsequently tried in secret on unknown charges, found guilty and given harsh sentences: Choegyal Wangpo was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Lobsang Jinpa to 19, Norbu Dondrub to 17 and Ngawang Yeshe to five years. These harsh sentences are unprecedented and indicative of the increase in restrictions on Tibetans to communicate freely, and practice their fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.
Under President Xi, China has become more oppressive at home and aggressive abroad. In response, democratic governments across the world have amplified their condemnation of China’s human rights violations, with some taking concrete action, such as imposing sanctions. For the future, as China’s regional and global clout continue to increase, like-minded democratic allies across the world must hold Beijing to account concerning the situation in Tibet.
Willy Fautré is the director of the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers. Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy is a research fellow at Academia Sinica and an affiliated scholar at Vrije Universiteit Brussel’s political science department.
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