By Mark·Rutte, published in Boao Review on March 15
China has recently ushered in a new year: the Year of the Sheep. Coincidentally, I was born under the sign of the sheep myself. And in my contacts with the Chinese community in the Netherlands, I have learned that according to an ancient Chinese proverb the Year of the Sheep will bring favorable winds. This is a good prospect considering my upcoming visit to China and the Boao Forum for Asia annual conference. We have every reason for optimism as we look to the future together.
Although China and Europe share a long history, just a few decades ago economic relations were still very limited. But after we established diplomatic ties in 1975, this rapidly changed. Today, the EU is China’s foremost trade partner. In 2013, the bilateral goods trade amounted to almost €430 billion. And trade in services is expanding rapidly – already topping €50 billion annually. These figures show how close we have become in a relatively short time. The current negotiations on a wide-ranging investment agreement between China and the EU are the next step forward.
China’s rapid emergence since the 1970s is an unprecedented success story. In the blink of an eye, China has become a key player on the world stage and in the process lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. Although the days of double-digit growth figures seem to be over, an average GDP increase of 7.5 percent is still highly enviable from a European point of view.
The great challenge facing China now is to renderthat growth sustainable in terms of natural resources, capital and manpower. As partners, China and the EU can help each other and learn a great deal from each other in this respect. Our specific situations may be very different, but in today’s globalized world the future is a shared responsibility, encompassing more than just economic ties. The 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation, set out in 2013, focuses on underlying themes that are important to both China and the EU: from peace and security and better market access to sustainable development and exchanging knowledge, manpower and culture.
The Netherlands’ role in the EU-China cooperation
The Netherlands has always had a special place in relations between China and Europe. As early as the 17th century, Dutch merchantmen plied the trade routes to the Far East via present-day Hainan Province – the venue for the Boao Forum conference. That special relationship between our countries was reaffirmed when President Xi Jinping came to the Netherlands on a state visit in 2014.
It was his first state visit to an EU member, and President Xi pointed out how the Netherlands is China’s gateway to Europe. Indeed, that is literally the case, given the importance of Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and Europe’s largest seaport Rotterdam to Chinese exports. In socio-cultural terms, the relationship between our countries is exceptional too – not least thanks to the active Chinese community in the Netherlands. When he visited our country, President Xi witnessed an agreement to set up a new Chinese cultural centre in the Netherlands.
The Netherlands wants to be that gateway to Europe in the future, so we are investing heavily in our bilateral relationship with China. The trade figures speak for themselves. Since the mid-1990s, the goods trade between China and the Netherlands has increased from about €2.5 billion to €40 billion. No fewer than 450 Chinese companies have opened branches in the Netherlands, including the European headquarters of world-renowned brands such as Huawei Enterprise, Midea and China Cargo Airlines. A wide variety of Chinese investors are finding their way to the Netherlands. Sports promoters United Vansen, for example, have bought the professional football club in my hometown of The Hague – a striking example which hit the headlines in my country.
Opportunities for further cooperation
We are seeing a similar trend in the contacts between our peoples. The number of Chinese students in our country is increasing steadily and currently stands at around 6,700. The number of tourists from China is growing faster here than anywhere else. Last year, 255,000 Chinese tourists visited the Netherlands, and in 10 years’ time we expect the number to top 800,000. Interestingly, increasing numbers are now also visiting the tourist destinations outside Amsterdam, and we are very pleased to welcome them. In the village of Giethoorn – our Venice of the North – tourist information is even being provided in Chinese.
Another important fact worth mentioning is that China and the Netherlands are both involved in combating piracy in international waters and are also engaging in military cooperation as part of the UN’s MINUSMA mission, helping to bring stability to Mali. In doing so we are protecting a common interest, because safe trade routes and a stable international environment are essential for the further development of world trade. These examples also testify to the responsibility China – as a large country and major global player – is shouldering when it comes to resolving global issues. The Netherlands welcomes this and will endeavor to remain an active and reliable partner in this context too.
So there is a great deal that unites us and I hope that my visit to China will enhance our cooperation further – I am convinced that opportunity is knocking at our doors. If I look to the future I see us both facing the same challenges. How do we deal with an ageing population? What do we need to do to cope with the effects of climate change? How do we provide enough safe food for the expanding world population? And where will our energy come from in 2050? The answers to these and other major sustainability questions will have to come from economic sectors like water, life sciences, agri-food and energy; all of which are highly developed in the Netherlands. Working together and sharing knowledge with our Chinese partners will help us both rise to these challenges and at the same time take our economies to new heights.
Dutch companies are eager to do business in China and our country welcomes Chinese businesses with open arms. We have an attractive fiscal, innovation and investment climate in an economy that ranks among the most stable and competitive in the world. To choose the Netherlands as your base is to opt for a highly educated and productive workforce, excellent transport links, and a country with an international orientation and business instincts well matched to those of the Chinese.
Chinese entrepreneurs thinking of setting up business in the Netherlands can rely on fast-track visa procedures for knowledge migrants and the necessary support from the Dutch diplomatic network in China. Having recently opened our new consulate-general in Chongqing, we now have four Dutch consulates in China, as well as the embassy in Beijing and six Netherlands Business Support Offices. For its part, China recently opened a new consulate-general in Willemstad, Curaçao, one of the countries that make up the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Yet more evidence of the mutual wish to invest in our strong cooperation.
The Dutch business representatives who will be accompanying me to China join me in looking forward to strengthening our existing ties and exploring new opportunities to work together. I sincerely hope that, true to tradition, this Year of the Sheep will indeed bring favorable winds that will carry both our economies forward and enhance our relations in every aspect.