World / China-Belgium

China-Belgium ties rise above bank

By Fu Jing and Gao Shuang (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2015-04-19 14:44

Failure of country to seek status as AIIB founding member doesn't dampen bilateral relations

Despite the fact that Belgium passed on signing up to become one of the early European backers of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the relationship between the two countries is healthy, according to Belgian and Chinese officials.

Belgium's former prime minister Elio Di Rupo calls China one of the most important countries in the world, having 20 percent of its population, and one that Belgium does not ignore.

 China-Belgium ties rise above bank

Elio Di Rupo says China is one of the most important countries and one that Belgium does not ignore. Fu Jing / China Daily

Di Rupo, in an interview with China Daily, expressed shock that Belgium had not applied.

The purpose of AIIB is to finance infrastructure projects in the Asia-Pacific region. Germany, France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, which all border Belgium, got their AIIB applications in much faster. Other European countries on the list of 57 prospective founders of the bank include Italy, Denmark, Austria, Russia, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The list was released on April 15 by China's Ministry of Finance.

The authorized capital of the AIIB is $100 billion (94 billion euros) and the initial subscribed capital is expected to be around $50 billion. Founding members have agreed that GDP will be the basic parameter in determining share allocation among member countries.

Di Rupo criticized the Belgian government's slowness in applying for AIIB membership and said he would ask why it did not follow the example of its European neighbors.

"We have to be partners (with China). It is very important - important for the investment bank but also for us," he says.

When asked why Belgium did not respond by the end of March, the deadline for becoming a founding member, he replies: "I don't know why, maybe it's only a question of time and not a question of caution. So I'm going to ask the government and current prime minister, but I'm quite sure that it's not a problem." 

But despite Belgium's initial absence, China-Belgium relations have steadily progressed in the past 44 years and collaboration has extended to cover the economy and trade, science and technology, and education and culture.

China and Belgium established diplomatic relations in October 1971. "By this October, we will be celebrating the 44th anniversary. I am already the 14th Chinese ambassador to Belgium," says Qu Xing, Chinese ambassador to Belgium.

"Over the past four decades, thanks to joint efforts from both sides, the friendly cooperation between the two countries keeps forging ahead, and has won support of the two peoples."

A year ago, President Xi Jinping paid a historic state visit to Belgium, the first of its kind in 27 years, he says. Xi came to Belgium only about a year after becoming president, which reflects the nation's great importance.

Qu also says King Philippe will pay an official visit to China this year at Xi's invitation. "This will be the first state visit by the King of Belgium to China in tens of years. It will also be the first state visit of King Philippe to a foreign country.

"This year will also witness high-level visits from the Chinese side. You see, the political relations between the two countries are in good shape."

He says in recent years, as China's economy has continued to grow, bilateral trade has been rising steadily. Last year, bilateral trade reached $27.2 billion, an increase of 1,350 times from 1971. In recent years, there has been rapid growth in China's investments in Belgium, creating a lot of job opportunities.

At present, many Chinese enterprises are interested in investing in Belgium, in the hopes of combining the scientific and technological advantages of Belgium with China's manufacturing advantages and market potential. Meanwhile, many Belgian people and entrepreneurs wish to visit China.

"Last year alone witnessed 40,000 Belgian citizens visiting or doing business in China," Qu says.

According to the Belgian embassy in China, Belgium's exports of goods to China amounted in 2013 for a total value of 7.22 billion euros ($7.68 billion) and its imports from China were worth 13 billion euros.

Di Rupo, who left office in October, is now mayor of Mons, a city less than an hour's drive from Brussels. Mons was chosen as one of this year's representatives in the European Capital of Culture program, and Di Rupo says he aims to take advantage of his political links with China to promote the city to the Chinese.

"In Mons, we understand how crucial it is in our globalized world to communicate with 20 percent of the people in the world.

"We will do a lot to achieve our goals," he says.

Di Rupo notes that his city's university now offers a master's degree program in Chinese studies. There is also a company that helps Chinese companies come to Belgium and helps Belgian companies go to China for investment and trade.

According Di Rupo, China is reaching a wide audience in Mons through an exhibition called "Fervent China". Sculptures form the heart of this show.

Describing the artists whose pieces are on display, he says: "Their works are characterized by a variety of forms undergoing constant renewal. Their guiding principle is thus to reinterpret and modernize the foundations of Chinese thought, thereby giving rise to new possibilities.

"Rather than ink or brushes, you will find plenty of works that highlight the new relationship between Chinese artists and the three dimensions found in sculpture and its materials."

The work of some 20 artists, from the pioneers of the late 1970s and early '80s to the latest generation, are in the main hall of the city's museum, which was the cold storage area of the former slaughterhouse, and in the garden.

This year is the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between China and the European community and the exhibition is among dozens of cultural events marking this event.

"Being a European Capital of Culture is a unique occasion to focus media attention all around the world on us. It will enhance the role that we deserve to play on the European scene," he says.

"Here, we hope to open a door for you to understand China and Belgium, to build a bridge for communication and connection and a platform for exchanges and cooperation."

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