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China’s emergence as an economic super-power is clear for all to see. Yet there remains a ‘great wall of ignorance’ between this country and Europe, which growing trade links alone cannot break down. At the Friends of Europe conference ‘Understanding China’s “soft power” and influence’ in Brussels on 21 November 2017, experts debated the key challenges and opportunities of fostering a better relationship between the two – especially through tourism and culture.
The conference, held in cooperation with the Mission of China to the EU, kicked off with a session on the EU-China Year of Tourism in 2018. International relations are typically defined by countries’ leaders, noted the moderator Shada Islam, Director for Europe and Geopolitics at Friends of Europe. ‘However, in today’s interconnected world, it’s conversations between people that counts – helping to build mutual trust,’ she said. Islam added that social and cultural contacts are an essential part of Europe’s strategic partnerships, including those with China. A great example is the EU-China High Level People-to-People Dialogue (HPPD), the third pillar of EU-China relations, complementing the other two pillars – the High Level Economic and Trade Dialogue and the High Level Strategic Dialogue. Held four times since 2012, HPPDs focus on cooperation in education and training, culture, multilingualism and youth.
Tourism, the moderator remarked, has tremendous potential to build stronger EU-China cultural understanding thanks to its extensive impact on jobs, economic growth and social development. Moreover, China is a major destination for European tourists and vice versa.