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Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a delight and a privilege for me to be back in Beijing at the head of the largest mission ever organised by Belgium abroad. With 500 participants among whom over 350 business leaders, this joint economic mission is a resounding success, and a tribute to the importance China represents for our country and our economic and commercial activity. We are grateful to the Chinese authorities for accompanying our visit and for their efficient cooperation.
I came to China for the first time in 1986 and, as President of Belgian Economic Missions, I have visited your country regularly. Each time I am astounded at the pace and the extent of China?s economic transformation and at the progress in the daily life of Chinese citizens. I am delighted that my wife Princess Mathilde accompanies me on this mission, so that we can both witness the extraordinary evolution of your fascinating country.
Our mission also benefits from the support of the Belgian Federal Minister of the Economy, Mr Verwilghen and of the highest political decision makers of our three Regions : Wallonia and Brussels are both represented by their Minister-Presidents Van Cauwenberghe and Picqué, and Flanders by Deputy Minister-President Mrs Moerman. Let me recognize also the presence of the Chairman of the Belgian Federation of Enterprise, of the Governor of the Province of Luxemburg and of many political dignitaries and officials of federal, regional and local institutions of Belgium.
Our Chinese friends know that Belgium is an interesting economic and commercial partner. My country has a strong export-oriented economy based on technology, creativity, innovation and hard work. But it is also important to remember that Belgium has always been, and still is today, a key crossroads of European trade routes and that we host the main decision making centres of the European Union. The seminar organized by the Brussels Region will focus on the opportunities offered by this unique location as a gateway to the wider European market. We encourage our Chinese partners to ?Think European? and to ?act from Belgium? to achieve this. The Xinhua official Chinese news agency has understood this message and we are delighted with the opening, a few months ago in Brussels, of their European Regional Bureau.
So to our Chinese friends among us today, I can confirm that here in this room, you have a powerful and representative visiting card of Belgium?s political and economic potential. As far as we ourselves are concerned, we have all come here for one simple reason : China matters. China is a key partner for our country both in bilateral terms and in the fields of economy, commerce, investment, science, technology, education, research and culture.
Where better to start our week long mission in the People?s Republic of China than in the Capital City, Beijing. Beijing is a work in progress, a city that reinvents itself on a daily basis. Your city has grown into a metropolis, with ultramodern buildings and infrastructure, and with its superb cultural heritage. A city truly well prepared to host important international events. We wish our friends of Beijing every success with the preparation of the 2008 Olympic Games. Let me tell you that Belgium is proud that the President of the Olympic Committee, Count Rogge, is a Belgian. And we, as a country, are also ready and eager to contribute, with our experts and our companies present in this room, to help China to make the Beijing Olympic Games truly a memorable world event.
Indeed all the participants in our mission are committed to expanding their relations with China. I thank them for their interest and commitment. I believe they have made the right choice, at the right time, in the right country. They will have an exceptional opportunity to witness the rise of China and its economy, seen through the lens of Beijing, Shanghai, Bengbu and Guangzhou.
Our mission has also witnessed the signing of important business agreements and the strengthening of the Benelux China Business Association, in the presence of the ambassadors of the Netherlands, Luxemburg and Belgium. The very successful visit of the Chinese Prime Minister to Brussels earlier this year has given us a better understanding of the existing trends and ambitions of China. We know that China will leave an imprint on the region and on our global world in the years to come. China?s growth record is impressive. Belgian business is doing well here, bilateral trade is surging, but we can and will do better. The Belgian industrial sector saw an increase of 20 percent in orders that were placed in recent months. Our trade in chemical products, machines, textile products, diamonds and precious metals, in equipment and consumer goods is the mainstay of our economic and commercial ties. The sector of transport is of strategic importance in Belgium and of course in China as well: therefore the Walloon Region has chosen to organize a seminar on automotive technology.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Belgium and China go back a long way. This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the investment treaty between our two countries. We also celebrate the 25th anniversary of the framework agreement between the People?s Republic of China and the Belgium-Luxemburg Economic Union. The substantial body of formal bilateral agreements has for the last twenty-five years formed the backdrop of the economic, industrial, scientific and technological cooperation between our two nations. We know that intensive harmonious relations between people and between nations are the key to prosperity. This is true in Belgium with its cultural diversity, it is true in China and it is true between our countries. There is a beautiful Chinese proverb to illustrate this : ?Harmony makes both a family and a nation prosperous? (Jia he ri zi wang ; guo he wan shi xing).
Inspired by this wisdom, we are widening the scope of our bilateral ties. Two years ago we made another significant step forward in our relations, with the signature of a framework agreement on cooperation in the area of the environment. The seminar organised by Flanders on Sustainable Greening Technologies will be a key contribution to this new and promising area of bilateral cooperation.
Another promising new bilateral tool is the China-Belgium Direct Equity Investment Fund. I would like to stress the importance of this agreement for both our countries, because it will help the small and medium-sized companies from China and Belgium to find new business opportunities or expand existing ones. I wish the Fund every success.
There is, Ladies and Gentlemen, an area very close to my heart where we are also intensifying our bilateral ties. I am referring to education and research. We welcome the spectacular growth of these contacts, which owes much to the efforts of the Flemish Government and of the French and Walloon Governments of Belgium and their intensive cooperation with the Chinese Ministries of Education, Foreign Trade and Foreign Affairs. Belgium welcomes the interest of many Chinese youngsters who come to our country in order to pursue research or to further their education in advanced scientific and technological areas. I understand there is a Chinese proverb that says : ?Scholars are invaluable to a nation as the main course is to a banquet? (Shi zhe guo zhong bao, ru wei xi shang zhen). Here again, we must bow to the ancient wisdom of the great Chinese culture.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me conclude by expressing once again to our Chinese hosts our gratitude for the hospitality already received. I wish each and every one in this room happiness, strength and success to make your projects, your dreams, your ambitions come true. I wish you fruitful contacts, interesting new partnerships and a bright and prosperous future. Thank you.