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Speech by Ambassador Xue Hanqin on China Day Seminar hosted by the Dutch-Chinese Friendship Association
2007/08/28

25 August 2007, Arnhem

Mr. Chairman Jaap Post,

Mr. Ate Oostra,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It gives my great pleasure to attend this seminar marking the 35th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and the Netherlands at the ambassadorial level. It provides us with a good opportunity to look back on the course of Sino-Dutch relations in the past 35 years and look forward to the prospects of our ever-increasing cooperations. First of all, I would like to thank once again the Dutch-China Friendship Association (VNC), the Dutch Olympic Committee and all the people involved for organizing and sponsoring this important event. I shall divide my speech in two parts. First, I shall give a general review of China-Dutch relations. Secondly, at the request of Mr. Post, I shall share with you some of my experience as the Chinese Ambassador to the Netherlands.

After the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the Netherlands was one of the first Western countries that recognized the new Chinese government and expressed the willingness to develop diplomatic ties with China. This welcoming assertion of the Dutch foreign policy, however, did not result in the establishment of ambassadorial diplomatic relations between the two countries. Instead, the bilateral relations remained at the Charge d'attaché level until 1972. Given the long history of our trade relations, many Dutch people asked me how come that our diplomatic relations have existed for only 35 years. It seems unusually too short for our two countries. I have to admit that their observation raises a very good question. Shadowed by the cold war and world political situation, the Sino-Dutch relationship went through ups and downs, experiencing twists and turns. Even though there were no fundamental conflicts of national interests between us, ideological division between the east and west camps kept the two countries at distance. In the 1980s, the Taiwan issue, particularly the Dutch sales of submarines to Taiwan seriously jeopardized the political foundation of our bilateral relations.

With the improvement of international situations, particularly since the end of the cold war, with the joint efforts from both sides, we are very pleased to see a new development in our bilateral relations. First, politically official dialogues and high-level visits between the two sides have strongly promoted mutual understanding and trust. In the recent ten years, the Dutch head of State, Her Majesty Queen Beatrix, head of the Dutch government, Prime Minister Balkenende, and His Royal Highness Prince Alexander visited China. During my tenure here, I noticed that almost all the cabinet members of the last Dutch government went to China. The momentum is still on the rise with the new government.

On the Chinese side, Mr. Li Peng and Mr. Zhu Rongji, the former Chinese Premiers, and Mr. Wen Jiabao, the current Chinese Premier, all visited the Netherlands during their time in office. Just last April, the Chinese Vice-Premier Hui Liangyu concluded his successful visit to the Netherlands. Apart from governmental exchanges, our national legislative bodies, the Chinese People's Congress and the Dutch Parliament have also increased their contacts with each other. In 2005, Mr. Wang Zhaoguo, the first Vice-Chairman of the Standing Committee of the People's Congress paid a visit to the Netherlands. Mr. Wang and his colleagues had very fruitful exchange of views with their Dutch counterparts. All these high-level visits are extremely important and conducive to promoting our bilateral ties. In view of the growing relations with China, in June 2006, the Dutch Foreign Ministry, at the request of the Dutch Parliament, issued a policy paper on China with a view to providing policy guidance to the over-all Dutch relations with China. The Chinese side highly appreciates this effort, not only because this is the first policy paper of its kind among the EU countries, but also because the general thrust of the paper is positive and the basic principles of our bilateral relations, particularly the one-China policy in relation to the Taiwan issue, are clearly reiterated.

China and the Netherlands both are active players in international affairs. As the world is changing, both sides feel the need to enhance bilateral talks and exchange views on strategic international issues, such as U.N. reforms, non-proliferation, energy security, climate change, development aid, etc. In the past few years, such exchanges at different levels have proven to be very useful and encouraging. The two sides share many views on a wide range of international and regional topics. We both advocate multilateralism, democracy and the rule of law in international relations. We both support multilateral cooperation within the framework of United Nations and the common development for all countries. Last May, when Mr. Verhagen, the Dutch Foreign Minister paid his first visit to Beijing, two sides agreed to set up regular consultation mechanism to further promote such dialogues.

In the past 35 years, our bilateral trade and economic relations have also grown remarkably. Bilateral trade volume reached over $ 30 billion in 2006, while the trade volume was only $ 69 million in 1972. The Netherlands ranks as China's second-largest trade partner within EU in the past four successive years. With over 70% transshipment of the goods from China to Germany and other European countries, the Netherlands consolidates its status as the gateway to Europe. At the moment, I am told that near 2000 Dutch companies are doing business in China and almost 50,000 Dutch medium- and small-sized companies are involved in the economic and trade cooperation with China. As is stated by the Sino-Dutch Economic Relation Report released by the Dutch Central Planning Bureau in September 2006, China's development has benefited the Netherlands a lot, and will offer more opportunities for the Dutch.

Likewise, Chinese economic and social developments have also been benefited from our cooperation with the Netherlands. In our important water projects, poverty-alleviation programs, city energy-saving efforts, airport expansion, Olympic constructions, Dutch participation is visible and valuable. We have learned a great deal from your advanced experiences in planning and management and appreciate your international vision and openness for cooperation. In the agricultural field, we are grateful that the Netherlands has helped China set up four demonstration farms with different themes. It is through the dissemination of your knowledge of modern agriculture that thousands of Chinese peasants were alleviated from poverty by learning to produce cash crops and economic products. Two years ago, I was extremely happy to see that Professor Jacbson from the Warningen University was awarded by the Chinese government for his great contributions to the potato research in China. To ensure the food supply for the billions of people, this cooperation has received State funding under the direct instruction from our Premier, Mr. Wen Jiabao. Right now, several provinces are involved in potato production and research. Many delegations have come to the Netherlands to learn about your experience.

In the areas of education, culture, science and technology, bilateral cooperations are also on the rapid increase. At the moment, there are around 7,000 Chinese students studying in the Netherlands, many of whom are research students. Among the Dutch research universities, many of them have established joint programs with the top Chinese universities. Recently, they focus more on joint R & D programs linked with frontier areas of science and technology.

Last year with the joint efforts of the Leiden University, the Hague Municipal government, the Chinese Ministry of Education and the Chinese Embassy, the Confucius Institute was established in The Hague. The Institute is expected to facilitate the Chinese language learning and cultural exchanges. We are glad to note that Chinese has already been taught as an elective course at the Dutch secondary schools.

In regard to the cultural exchanges, the Dutch public in recent years has seen more and more Chinese cultural events take place in their museums, theaters, parks and other public places. China Day in Rotterdam, Chinese New Year parade in The Hague, Chinese music concerts in Amsterdam have received growing audience. For the year of 2006 alone, the Netherlands has accommodated more than 150,000 Chinese visitors, while over 80,000 Dutch people went to China for either business or tourist purpose. With the upcoming 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, our Embassy will be busier than ever in issuing visas and receiving Chinese delegations.

As a gesture of our contribution to the commemoration of the 35th Anniversary of Sino-Dutch Relations, today I would like to take this opportunity to announce the publication of a Chinese book on the Dutch paintings. The author is Mr. Zhang Xumin, one of my former young staff, working in the Embassy. During his sparetime, the young diplomat studied the Dutch paintings from the Golden Age till the modern time. As his study was getting deeper and substantial, I suggested that he write it down in Chinese so that the Chinese people could better appreciate the Dutch paintings through his research and study. The outcome of the work proves his commendable efforts. I have written a preface for the book. Now with much pride I present it to you.

In the second part of my speech, I shall say a few words about my personal observations of our bilateral relations and my experience as the Chinese Ambassador to the Netherlands. By now it has been four years since I was posted to the Netherlands. When I first came to the post, I thought I already knew something about the country because I had been to The Hague on mission several times before. Very soon, however, I realized that was a wrong assumption. I had to start from scratch to get to know the country as well as its people. I set to study the Dutch history and its culture. Here I want to particularly mention that many Dutch people answered my endless and tedious questions and inquiries with great patience, and introduced to me a lot of interesting books about this lowland country. From the 80 years war, I began to understand the characteristics of the Dutch political system; from its Calvinist tradition, I got to know the Dutch mentality; from the Golden Age, I came to realize why the country is called "the country of traders"; from the early practice of tulip trade, I learned to appreciate the substance of the Dutch agriculture. Throughout its history, the Netherlands has admirably produced so many prominent figures, statesmen, philosophers, artists, and scientists. With experiences accumulated through generations, the Dutch people have built most sophisticated water networks in the world and through landscaping turned the country into a beautiful homeland. The more I get to know the country, the more I feel that China can learn a lot from the Netherlands. Indeed, ever since I came here, I have been a strong promoter of your country to the Chinese people. I consider this is the role of an Ambassador.

As my knowledge about the Netherlands is growing, I also observe that the Dutch knowledge about China in general should equally be enhanced. Even though our trade relations can be traced back to hundreds of years ago and the public interest in China is rapidly growing, frankly speaking, the general impression about China in this country remains largely stereotyped; information about the current developments in China tends to be limited, fragmented, and often times negative. How to present a full picture of China to the Dutch people, and how to further promote our mutual understanding is an important task for the Chinese Ambassador. I think as far as the Chinese side is concerned, there are primarily two aspects that we should address. One is the cultural hindrance. In introducing China to the Dutch people, we often fail to pay enough attention to our "audience", to the common discourse they use and issues they are concerned with. So far, the information we provided is often insufficient, both in terms of availability of comprehensible materials as well as in terms of way of presentation. This is the first area we have been trying to improve.

The second aspect is the ideological obstacle. As I said previously, our relations never exist in vacuum. Given our differences in terms of our political system, development stage, cultural heritage and social customs, it is not at all surprising that we do not see eye to eye on everything. We differ even on some of the most important issues in our social and economic development policy, for instance, on the issue of human rights protection, but this does not mean that the two countries cannot develop friendly and cooperative relations in accordance with the basic principles of international law. With our differences, I think the solution does not lie in persuasion of each other, but mutual understanding and mutual respect. To promote such mutual understanding, both sides have to be open, candid and equal. In my contacts with the government departments, research institutes, universities, business communities, I never try to dodge our differences, but frankly discuss any questions that people may raise. I feel happy to say that my approach is positively received and appreciated by the Dutch people.

Diplomats are the official representatives of their country. Traditionally, diplomatic missions mainly deal with the government departments and official agencies of the residing State. Given his social prestige and privileges, ambassador is jokingly described by people as "a person who is dining and wining for his country". Indeed, official representation and social functions are indispensable parts of professional duties for an ambassador, but today formal diplomacy between States is no longer as predominant as in the past in international relations. Public diplomacy and people's contacts have required diplomats to diversify their roles and reach out to the people. In the western countries, public sector and private sector interact with each other. Government's foreign policy requires public support. If we do not understand this, our efforts to promote bilateral relations would not be able to produce their full effects. In recent years, we have seen the annual Chinese New Year celebrations, the Amsterdam Chinese Cultural Festival, various China Day, China Week, sports events, so and so forth. All these activities have exerted great social impact on the Sino-Dutch relations. During my stay here, I have talked extensively with the Dutch people, the MPs, the media, the academia, business people, farmers, students, retired people, etc. I am deeply touched and encouraged by their enthusiasm and interest in China. With great confidence I can say that this is a friendly country to China.

On this occasion, I do not want to miss the opportunity to say how much we value the role of VNC and its members, old and new, in promoting the friendly relations between our two countries and peoples. In the past 30 years since its founding, VNC has made unremitting efforts in promoting our bilateral relations at the grassroots level, even in difficult times. I have met with some old members of the Organization, their passion for Chinese culture and their friendship for the Chinese people are most unforgettable.

While we celebrate the great achievements we have made in our bilateral relations, we cannot fail but to realize that there are still some substantive issues that we have to handle jointly and cautiously. The most sensitive and difficult issue is still related to the One China principle to be strictly observed in our bilateral relations. As the cross-Straits relations and the situation in Taiwan are developing with many complicated factors, China expects its friendly countries to continue their support for its efforts in the maintenance of national sovereignty and territorial integrity and peaceful reunification of the country.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The past 35 years has left us with many political wisdom and useful lessons. As the famous Dutch poet Willem Bilderdijk said "The past embodies the present, the present indicates the future", in view of the past 35 years, we have every confidence to believe that the China-Dutch relations will become much stronger and better in the next 35 years.

Thank you for your attention.

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