EU-China Youth have their say!

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PAWE? BIE?KOWSKI, Asian Programme

Self-sustainable development of cities, cooperation within global financial frameworks, barriers of free movement of labour, early warning crisis system, military-to-military exchanges, establishment of an internship scheme – these are only a few of the variety of topics discussed during the EU-China Youth Policy Dialogue on Urbanisation, Social Policies and EU-China Relations, held in Chengdu on 19-24 February 2012. Centre for International Initiatives had a proper share in this unusual event, first ever of this kind in the history of EU-China relations.

Final briefing just before conclusion of the Chengdu Dialogue

2011 EU-China Year of Youth has opened the way for youth representatives from the EU and China to meet each other, enhance mutual understanding and come up with proposals for future cooperation. Laudable idea as it sounds, the EU-China YoY had a series of drawbacks. First and foremost, this was an exclusively top-down initiative, designed by Jose Barroso and Wen Jiabao, and therefore featured mostly grandiose gala dinners, carefully staged VIP conferences and guided „study tours”. Consequently, the Year did not manage to bring much content into the EU-China relations. However, the initiative survived and has been recreated successfully by the European Institute of Asian Studies and the Chinese Institute for European Studies in a form of a truly results-oriented EU-China Youth Policy Dialogue.

The forum in Chengdu brought together merely a dozen of Europeans and a similar number of the Chinese, all carefully selected (based on merit) and properly motivated. Having been split in two groups (one on urbanisation and social policies, another on broader EU-China relations), the participants staged intensive and sometimes heated discussions with an aim to produce a final statement and an action plan for EU-China cooperation. Several key differences to the 2011 YoY come to mind. First of all, the Dialogue took place in an inland city in Sichuan province, known as a source of labour supply for richer coastal regions rather than a genuine success story destination, the kind of those presented to the EU youth representatives last year. Secondly, the Chinese participants were mostly regular students, researchers and young professionals, rather than promising party activists or a somewhat shy watchers similar to the participants of the YoY events. In any case they were ready to engage us, their European counterparts, in discussions on virtually any topic, regardless its political significance. No one was afraid to speak about democracy, freedom of internet or hard security issues. This has been one of remarkable achievements of the Dialogue.

Naturally, the participants were taken to the panda base in Chengdu

The Final Statement together with the Action Plan (available here) reflect a very broad but nonetheless thoroughly covered spectre of key issues, important both from the perspective of youth and crucial in the EU-China relations. Participants shared their common concerns about the quality of life in ever-growing cities, with all threats and opportunities their development brings. They called for exchange of best practices and advocated for more green growth strategies. In the realm of economic relations, discussions focused on barriers for EU-China trade and investments and cooperation in both practical grass-root projects as well as in global governance. Exchange of know how and technology and IPR protection has been a major point of contention here. Youth representatives shared their views and proposals regarding social security system reform in both the EU and China. Here, a complex problem of youth unemployment easily connected both sides of Eurasia. As far as development cooperation with third countries was concerned, some dividing lines appeared between the aid-oriented European approach and a will to protect own investments on the Chinese side. However, cooperation in this field has been collectively advocated. Interesting discussions took place on political relations and security issues, featuring such points of contention as the arms embargo, CSBMs, transnational threats or South China Sea. As the Europeans called for transparency and mutual engagement, the Chinese stressed the need for equal treatment and understanding of the counterpart’s position. Last but not least, a vast number of suggestions was put forward in the field of education, cultural exchange and youth policies, including more university and training exchange, language learning, film co-production or even improving the salaries of teachers. In a word, nothing remains a tabu now for the EU-China youth dialogue!

During a visit to the town rebuilt after the 2008 Sichuan earthquake

While the Statement and the Action Plan have already been presented and welcomed by the EU Delegation in Beijing, providing for a political outcome of the forum, its participants were also given a chance to know each other better in a variety of ways. A truly stunning experience was to listen to the representative of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce during one of the expert panels who spoke in details about EU-China trade and investments negotiations, public procurement in China and Doha round talks. As the Europeans were surprised by his unusual openness and easygoing demeanour, Chinese colleagues rushed to convince us that „there is more officials like him coming in China”. Really, a development worth witnessing in the nearest future. Of course, the Chinese organisers made their share of „promotion” and „advertisement” by introducing their European counterparts to the Chengdu software park (home to the latest Apple technologies), the panda reserve or Wenchuan, a town rebuilt after the tremendous 2008 earthquake. All of these, however, have been a nice supplement and scene-setting for the changing reality of today’s China and its relations with the outside world.

The next edition of the Dialogue, this time on climate change, environment and youth policy, is scheduled to take place in Brussels on 18-23 March 2012, and will also feature a CII representative. Still works are under way in order to set up an efficient platform for daily exchange: since the social networks are not of much use between China and the world, specific websites are now being advocated. Plenty is to be done in order to facilitate mutual understanding on life-shaping issues, but such initiatives as the EU-China Youth Policy Dialogue contribute more to building of the bridges than anything before.

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Paweł Bieńkowski

Absolwent Instytutu Stosunków Międzynarodowych UW (2011), studiował również na University of Kent w Canterbury (2008-9). Odbywał staż w brukselskim Egmont – The Royal Institute for International Relations, gdzie prowadził badania dotyczące współpracy UE z jej partnerami strategicznymi w dziedzinie zwalczania zagrożeń transnarodowych (2011). Reprezentant Polski na obchodach EU-China Year of Youth 2011 w Brukseli i Shenzhen. Praktykant w Ambasadzie RP w Pekinie (2010). Prezes Koła Wschodniego UW (2007-2009). Działa na rzecz popularyzacji idei Azji w środowisku akademickim. Członek Centrum Inicjatyw Międzynarodowych w latach 2010-2013.

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