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.
The billion-dollar disaster - China's influence in Montenegro
Montenegro is building its first-ever motorway. Due to a huge loan scandal, it’s now become the country’s highway to hell. 40 bridges and 90 tunnels are expected to be built and financed by the Chinese. However, the project has been hit by corruption allegations, construction delays and environmental tragedies. Today, out of the planned 170 kilometres, just 40 have been completed, writes Juris Paiders.
The motorway is one of the most expensive in the world. It's financed by a loan from China loan. Paying back this money is creating problems. The story starts with Montenegro's former Prime Minister and current President, Milo Dukanović. He conceived the motorway to boost trade in the small Balkan country.
However, lacking funds to start construction, he accepted a billion-dollar loan from China in 2014. Other investors didn't want to get involved. Prior to this, French and American feasibility studies highlighted the risks of such an oversized project. The European Investment Bank and the IMF also announced that it was a bad idea.
Now, with the pandemic crushing Montenegro’s tourism-dependent economy, the country is struggling to find a way to finance the missing stretches of road.
The motorway should link Bar Harbor in the south to the border with Serbia in the north. The first section was scheduled to be finished in 2020, but it still isn't.
Politicians promised that the motorway contraction will boost employment in Montenegro. However, the Chinese contractor brought in its own workers, with no contracts or social security contributions.
An NGO backed by the EU is investigating corruption allegations involving subcontractors. Out of the huge loan from China, 400 million Euros were given to subcontractors, which some of them are linked with President.
In Montenegro people are hoping that there will be justice and someone should pay for this ambitious constructions plan. However, some fear that China has its eyes on Bar's deep-water harbor. When signing the billion-dollar-loan with China, Montenegro agreed to some strange terms, like giving up sovereignty of certain parts of the land in the case of financial problems. Arbitration in this scenario would take place in China using Chinese laws.
A long-term harbor concession would fit nicely into China’s “Belt-and-Road-Initiative”, a global infrastructure project to access markets. Harbor authorities in Bar are already hoping for an economic upturn and have plans for two new terminals.
The Chinese-managed motorway isn’t just mired in cronyism allegations; it’s also accused of damaging the protected Tara river valley. The ecology group 'Green Home', after several monitoring of Tara River, has concluded that impact of incompetent construction on river is disastrous. Sediment from the construction site is trickling into the water, preventing the fish from spawning.
Chinese managers have been accused of ignoring basic EU standards and Montenegro is criticized for failing to supervise construction correctly. Rubble has changed the Tara riverbed, perhaps irreparably.
Environmental experts proposed alternative layouts of the motorway that would have avoided the Tara valley, but they were ignored.
The river Tara is UNESCO protected and it should be forbidden to gravel the soil and sand, but this is happening there because of the construction work.
All over the Western Balkans, Chinese investment has slowed down EU compatible reforms. China’s silk road ambitions are not always in line with EU standards of good governance, environmental protection, rule of law and transparency. Their influence is creating a wedge between the EU and the Balkan states.
The opinions expressed in the above article are those of the author alone, and do not reflect any opinion on the part of EU Reporter.
EU-China investment deal stalls
European Commission Executive Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis confirms that progress on the investment deal with China has stalled following March sanctions.
The EU concluded what Dombrovskis describes as an “asymmetric deal” with China at the end of last year. Known as the Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI), it was presented on 30 December.
Today (5 May) he said: ”There are substantially more new commitments from China as regards market access, with regards to the level playing field and this is something that European companies have been asking us for for many years. So as regards the agreement itself, that technical work is ongoing to prepare the ground for ratification.”
At the time of the agreement Dombrovskis said: “This deal will give European businesses a major boost in one of the world's biggest and fastest-growing markets, helping them to operate and compete in China. It also anchors our values-based trade agenda with one of our largest trading partners. We have secured binding commitments on the environment, climate change and combatting forced labour. We will engage closely with China to ensure that all commitments are honoured fully.”
Wider political context
When asked about whether the deal had been suspended, Dombrovskis said that the position of the European Commission has not changed. He said that the “ratification process of comprehensive agreement on investment cannot be separated from the wider political context. I will repeat that the ratification process cannot be separated from evolving dynamics of the wider EU-China relationship. And in this context, Chinese sanctions targeting among others members of European Parliament and even an entire parliamentary subcommittee are unacceptable and regrettable, and prospects and next steps concerning ratification on comprehensive agreement of investment will depend on how the situation evolves.”
The Commission faced much criticism when the agreement was reached, by appearing to move ahead of the United States, before the new administration had taken office. It was felt by some that the EU should wait to see if there was the possibility of finding common cause with the new Biden team.
There were also accusations that the EU was ignoring China’s human rights record, particularly in relation to the treatment of the Uyghur muslim population in Xianjang province and the crackdown on the democracy protesters and the introduction of the national security law in Hong Kong.
G7 to discuss decisive action to counter threats like Russia and China
Britain on Tuesday (4 May) sought to agree decisive action from G7 partners to protect democracies against global threats like those posed by China and Russia.
Hosting the second day of a foreign ministers' meeting in London designed to lay the groundwork for a leaders' summit in June, Dominic Raab (pictured) will lead talks among the Group of Seven wealthy nations on threats to democracy, freedoms and human rights.
"The UK’s presidency of the G7 is an opportunity to bring together open, democratic societies and demonstrate unity at a time when it is much needed to tackle shared challenges and rising threats," Raab said in a statement.
In addition to the G7 members Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, Britain has also invited ministers from Australia, India, South Africa and South Korea this week.
Their first face-to-face meeting in two years is seen by Britain as a chance to reinforce support for the rules-based international system at a time when it says China's economic influence and Russian malign activity threaten to undermine it.
On Monday (3 May), having met with Raab, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said there was a need to try to forge a global alliance of freedom loving countries, though stressed he did not want to hold China down, but make sure it played by the rules. Read more
Tuesday's discussion also covered the coup in Myanmar, urging stronger action against the military junta in the form of expanded sanctions, support for arms embargoes and more humanitarian assistance.
In the afternoon talks will turn to Russia, including how to respond to a troop manoeuvres on the border with Ukraine and the imprisonment of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
Raab said on Sunday he wanted the G7 to consider a joint rebuttal unit to tackle Russian disinformation and propaganda. Read more
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