The EU-China Round Table's fourteenth meeting was hosted by the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and held in Brussels on 18 and 19 May 2016. The EU-China Round Table was set up in 2007 following a Decision taken by the 9th EU-China Summit, which acknowledged that the exchanges and cooperation between the EESC and its Chinese counterpart, the China Economic and Social Council (CESC), formed an integral part of the EU-China relationship.
Topics on the agenda of the fourteenth meeting included innovation and economic development in rural areas and infrastructure and investment in the context of the 'One Belt One Road' initiative and the launch of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
EESC President Georges Dassis opened the meeting: "The Round Table discussions have proven their relevance to the overall EU-China Strategic Partnership. The relationship between the two regions has expanded and developed, and so has the relation between the EESC and the CESC. Our mutual experiences contribute to an informed and balanced development of the overall relationship".
Ambassador Yang Yanyi, Head of the Chinese Mission to the EU, stated: "The work done by both societies to reform and develop our economies go hand in hand. We therefore welcome the efforts made by both sides today to bring together expertise on these important topics".
Gunnar Wiegand, the EEAS' Managing Director Asia, added that "Civil society organisations contribute to the achievement of the EU-China 2020 Strategic Agenda for Cooperation, and to the legitimacy of public institutions and therefore, to better legislation".
One Belt One Road initiative and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank launch
The joint statement which the participants adopted recognises that the objectives of the Europe 2020 strategy and China's 13th five-year plan are compatible. It further states that the One Belt One Road (OBOR) vision needs to be transformed into a more tangible and understandable reality for all actors involved, including civil society.
The statement praises the direct participation of EU Member States in the AIIB and the entry of China into the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) as a good example of the principles of reciprocity and inclusiveness. "Having a stake in each other's financial institutions provides an opportunity to uphold principles which are crucial to civil society worldwide: compliance with internationally agreed standards in public procurement, environmental protection, human rights, and labour and social protection".
Vice-President of the China ESC Mr Xu Zhenhuan stated that: "infrastructure is at the basis of economic development in the EU and in China. Projects in this area not only generate jobs but are also conducive to societal and economic development".
According to the joint statement, civil society must be involved in the monitoring and assessment of the implementation of policy initiatives in the area of innovation and rural development. The participants expressed their support for the ongoing negotiations toward a future EU-China Investment agreement. They consider that optimum transparency must be guaranteed during this negotiation process and call for directly involving civil society organisations on both sides – and the EESC’s EU-China Round Table can play a key role in promoting cross-sector dialogue.
Innovation and economic development in rural areas
The EU and China face common challenges with regard to rural policy, in particular rural depopulation, environmental sustainability and the social demands arising from an ageing demographic profile. The Round Table participants agreed that harmonious development and optimisation of economic and social outcomes of development programmes can be achieved by involving civil society and through stakeholder partnerships in the design and implementation such programmes.
To address mutual challenges, the joint statement calls for an exchange of best practice and ideas in rural development between the EU and China, similar to the existing dialogue on urban development.
"China and the EU share common values: smart sustainable and inclusive growth; enlarging and deepening cooperation; the importance of networking in the framework of our mutual dialogue" said European Commissioner for Regional policy, Corina Crețu. "Competitiveness of Europe cannot be achieved by EU Member states acting alone. Rural resources and actors can contribute to economic growth and regional development as a whole, combined with diversification of activities and combining different technologies". Ms Crețu continued, "EU and China are committed to develop their cooperation, and the EU can assist China in reaching smart and sustainable growth".
The joint statement shall be submitted to the next EU-China Summit, scheduled to take place on 12-13 July in Beijing, China.