Interview with H.E. Cao Zhongming

Ambassador of China to the Kingdom of Belgium

As ambassador of China, what are the main focus points for you today in Brussels? Bilateral agreements? Economic diplomacy, cultural diplomacy, education? Other? Depending on the focus points, we can highlight these with specific cases.

I arrived in the “capital of Europe” last September to take up this new position and I have felt deeply honored. China and Belgium, with a diplomatic relationship dating back to 1971, have enjoyed long-standing friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation. Building on the mutual trust, friendship and cooperation between the two countries, I will work closely with friends from the Belgian side, so that together we will contribute to the growth of China-Belgium ties.

As ambassador, the primary task for me is to implement the agreement reached by Chinese and Belgian leaders, who attach great importance to China-Belgium relations. President Xi Jinping paid a state visit to Belgium in 2014. It was during that visit our bilateral relations were upgraded to an all-around partnership for friendly cooperation. His Majesty King Philip visited China in the following year. Premier Li Keqiang also travelled to Belgium and held meetings with Prime Minister Michel on multiple occasions. I will work with the Belgian side to materialize the results of the visit to further deepen and enrich China-Belgium relations.

Another focus of my work would be to advance pragmatic cooperation. The complementarity between Chinese and Belgian economies make us important partners to each other. Already China is the tenth destination for Belgian exports and the seventh largest source of Belgian imports. Our cooperation will only enjoy even greater opportunities in the future as China opens its door wider. China is ready to expand its cooperation with Belgium, especially in such areas as e-commerce, Belt and Road, third-party market, so that both sides will share the benefits of a “bigger cake” of China-Belgium cooperation.

Both China and Belgium are advocates for inclusiveness, openness, and diversity. Last year a number of Chinese cultural events took place in Belgium, including a concert by composer Tan Dun, and also an exhibition giving a panoramic view of Chinese comic strips. The Happy Chinese New Year Parade in Antwerp and Liege appealed to both overseas Chinese and the Belgian people. The Chinese tourists visiting Belgium and the close to 4000 Chinese students in Belgian universities are all “envoys” of China-Belgium friendship. As Chinese ambassador to Belgium, I will also be devoted to enhancing culture, education and tourism exchanges to bring the hearts of Chinese and Belgian people closer together.

I strongly support China-Belgium sub-national cooperation. China and Belgium have 31 twin cities, among them Beijing with 21 million residents, and the Brussels-capital region with 1.2 million; Shanghai with a 24 million population and Antwerp with a 500 thousand population. The cities vary in sizes and have different features, but they are complementary and have frequent exchanges. I would be most happy to help build new highlights of sub-national cooperation by connecting Chinese cities and provinces with those of Belgium.

I believe China-Belgium friendship will not be affected no matter how the international landscape evolves, because peace, development and cooperation are the theme of our times, and more importantly, because China-Belgium relations are built on the solid foundation of mutual benefits. China is ready to step up strategic communication and pragmatic cooperation with Belgium to further enrich our bilateral relations.

Without any doubt China and its cultural heritage are the fundaments of our civilisation and relate to all cultural developments that have defined our cultural history until today. How do you look back to this phenomenon, and how would you contextualize the history and heritage as a bridge to our contemporary life and culture in the context of global culture?

In its five millennium of history, the Chinese civilization has indeed made its contribution to the progress of human society, as ancient inventions, like paper-making, printing, gunpowder and compass originating from China were introduced into European and other countries. In addition, the philosophy and thinking of Chinese ancestors are the assets of all mankind and can still lend its wisdom to problem-solving in today’s world.

The world today is not free from regional conflicts. The Art of War, a Chinese treatise written in the 5th century on military strategies, begins with this observation: “War is of vital importance to the state. It is a matter of life and death, a road to either survival or ruin. Hence it demands careful contemplation.” It means that a war should be prevented through all means and one must exercise greatest prudence deciding to fight a war. China, since ancient times, has been a nation aspiring for peace and harmony. This tradition lies behind our modern-day policies advocating for respect for national sovereignty and political resolution to disputes. Some of the regional hot spot issues are properly handled but others have been protracted. We believe that history has and will continue to prove that the negotiating table provides greater chances to finding a fundamental solution than heavy artillery.

Let me give another example. Technological innovations have made our world smaller, and have facilitated movement of population in numbers like never before. How do we deal with cultural differences in this context? I believe that Confucius has answered this two thousand years ago in his famous teaching “seeking harmony without uniformity”. There is no superiority among different cultures. Cross-cultural exchanges inject new dynamism into civilizations. The Chinese civilization has survived and thrived precisely because it is in the dialogues and sometimes even in conflict with other civilizations, and readily assimilates the good qualities of others. Cultures will be nourished, rather than stifled, through friendly exchanges with one another.

The Gilets jaunes movement swept parts of Europe last year, prompting discussion in some countries about state governance that will better satisfy the people. As highlighted in the Chinese adages “a humane person cares for others”, “people are the foundation of a country and only when the people are satisfied can the country thrive”, the Chinese culture puts great emphasis on the happiness and sense of fulfillment of the people when it comes to good governance. We believe that this is the only way for the country to maintain stability and prosperity. Over the past 70 years, since the People’s Republic of China was founded, a people-centered approach assumes center stage in our state governance. The Communist Party of China makes it a top priority to make lives better for the Chinese people. This explains how China managed to lift over 700 million people out of poverty in four decades and achieve great economic and social progress. This I believe is also well-recognized by European countries.

It is also entrenched in the Chinese value a certain “world-mindedness”. Ancient Chinese thinkers say “the world is one community”, “one should keep on improving himself when in poor conditions; and generously help others when conditions get better”. This sheds light on the Chinese world view. Just as a giant tree cannot become a forest, a strong nation can never represent the entire world. The world can only become better with the participation and partnership of every nation. China has proposed the “community of mankind” and the Belt and Road Initiative because we hope to share the opportunities brought by the growth of China. China is open to cooperation with Belgium and all other countries for achieving common development.

The diversity today, defined by a continuous diaspora for millennia, is dying to find a common cultural ground for all the world. With everything mentioned above, could you create and propose a cultural framework that nurtures this longing for connection in between China and Europe?

China and Europe are examples of Eastern and Western culture. The openness and inclusiveness of Chinese culture resonate with the “united in diversity” motto of the EU. I think the two sides can work together to play a bigger role in promoting cross-cultural communication. China has established cultural exchange mechanisms with many European countries. With Belgium, China has signed culture cooperation agreements with both Flanders and Wallonia. The China Cultural Center in Brussels, since unveiled in 2015, has been hosting concerts, exhibitions, and seminars and other activities that have proven popular to the Belgian public. The Chinese New Year Parade, organized by overseas Chinese in the past four years, has also brought the joy of the new year celebration to Belgian people across the country.

On the EU level, the two sides have dynamic exchanges through the China-EU High Level People-to-People Dialogue, launched in 2011, and cooperation at all levels has been conducted in education, culture, science and technology, media, sports, women, youth and other areas. The cooperation has yielded fruitful results and has injected fresh impetus into the overall growth of China-EU relations. Over 100 events of all kinds were organized during the 2018 China-EU Tourism Year to raise the visibility of Chinese tourism in the EU and vice versa, pushing China-EU cultural exchanges to new heights.

Affinity between peoples contributes to enduring state-to-state relations. People-to-people exchanges drive forward China’s relations with European countries. Under the current circumstances, it is important for the two sides to make good use of our bilateral and multilateral cultural exchange mechanisms to facilitate exchanges in education, sports, youth and women so that our people will better understand each other, and China’s relations with Europe will grow in strength, gain more support, and continue to prosper.

Barbara Dietrich