Lit­tle Bel­gium packs a big punch

Chi­nese am­bas­sador lauds 45 years of diplo­matic re­la­tions, and high­lights busi­ness in­vest­ment in small Euro­pean na­tion

China Daily (USA) - - PEOPLE - By FU JING in Brus­sels fu­jing@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The word “but” is prob­a­bly the one most fre­quently on the lips of Qu Xing, China’s am­bas­sador to Bel­gium, when de­scrib­ing the achieve­ments of this small coun­try in Western Europe.

Qu, who took up his diplo­matic role in late 2014, has been im­pressed with the strengths of Bel­gium, a coun­try with only half the pop­u­la­tion of Bei­jing.

“It is a small coun­try, but it has tremen­dous global in­flu­ence,” Qu said.

Sit­ting in the guest room of the newly-re­fur­nished Chi­nese em­bassy, on an av­enue lined with dense trees on the out­skirts of Brus­sels, Qu noted that the coun­try is home to the Euro­pean Union head­quar­ters, NATO, think tanks and ma­jor me­dia, along with lob­by­ing and com­mer­cial or­ga­ni­za­tions by the thou­sands. Be­hind him hang the flags of China and Bel­gium.

“Af­ter Wash­ing­ton, Brus­sels should be the sec­ond sym­bol when we talk about the West,” Qu said, re­fer­ring to the wealth of soft power that makes Bel­gium dif­fer­ent from other Euro­pean coun­tries.

Af­ter set­ting the scene, Qu, a pro­fes­sor-turned-am­bas­sador, went into de­tail about Bel­gium’s ad­van­tages in the fields of re­search and de­vel­op­ment, for­eign trade, ed­u­ca­tion and lo­gis­tics. The list would be im­pres­sive, even for a large na­tion.

Be­cause China has been in the process of re­struc­tur­ing its economy and boost­ing out­ward in­vest­ment, Qu has been busy ex­plor­ing co­op­er­a­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties for Chi­nese and Bel­gian busi­nesses, putting as many on-site vis­its as pos­si­ble on his daily agenda. Neatly dressed in a grey suit, he has just re­turned from a visit to the head­quar­ters of Agfa, a leader in color print­ing and health­care so­lu­tions, lo­cated half an hour from Brus­sels.

“I was im­pressed by its cut­tingedge re­search ca­pac­ity,” he said.

Agfa is among the global top three in color print­ing, along with Ko­dak in the United States and Fuji in Ja­pan.

He has also vis­ited com­pa­nies in fields such as phar­macy, civil­ian nu­clear tech­nol­ogy and the mi­cro­elec­tron­ics sec­tor. He’s been im­pressed at ev­ery turn.

Bel­gium is not a big mar­ket — “but”, he em­pha­sized, “it has a strong hold on re­search and de­vel­op­ment”.

By us­ing the coun­try’s ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion in the heart of the Euro­pean Union as a gate­way, Bel­gians are in­clined to de­velop in­ter­na­tional trade and ex­plore mar­kets that value the coun­try’s com­pet­i­tive­ness in re­search. In ad­di­tion, Bel­gium boasts con­ve­nient trans­porta­tion hubs that can eas­ily con­nect with Paris, Lux­em­bourg, Am­s­ter­dam, Frank­furt and other Euro­pean cities by wa­ter, land or air.

Qu noted that Bel­gium has sev­eral uni­ver­si­ties in the world’s top 200.

All of these fac­tors con­trib­ute to its vi­tal­ity in trade and in­vest­ment.

Qu has spent a lot of time in Europe. He lived in Paris from 1986 to 1992 while earn­ing a mas­ter’s de­gree and a doc­tor­ate in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence at the Paris In­sti­tute of Po­lit­i­cal Stud­ies. Be­tween 2006 and 2009, he worked as min­is­ter, deputy chief of mis­sion, at the Chi­nese em­bassy in France.

Qu said Bel­gium, which is nes­tled be­tween the pow­ers of France, Ger­many, UK and the Nether­lands and is a con­ver­gence point for Latin and Ger­manic cul­tures, “is ge­net­i­cally in­clu­sive, tol­er­ant and open”.

It was also among the ear­li­est coun­tries to be­come in­dus­tri­al­ized.

Qu said he now has the great re­spon­si­bil­ity of help­ing to deepen the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship be­tween Bel­gium and China in sev­eral ar­eas.

A renowned pro­fes­sor who was as­sis­tant pres­i­dent and vi­cepres­i­dent at China For­eign Af­fairs Univer­sity from 1995 to 2006 and pres­i­dent of the China In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies from 2009 to 2014, he is adept at list­ing data and form­ing new nar­ra­tives in de­scrib­ing the bi­lat­eral re­la­tion­ship.

He said busi­ness­peo­ple in China and Bel­gium to­day han­dle trade flows ev­ery seven hours equal to an en­tire year of trade 45 years ago, when the two na­tions forged diplo­matic ties.

The fact is, among the many fac­tors cited by Qu that il­lus­trate the close­ness of the part­ner­ship the na­tions have forged over the past few years, bi­lat­eral trade may be the most im­pres­sive. In 2015 it reached $23.2 bil­lion.

“That’s 1,150 times the trad­ing vol­ume at the be­gin­ning of our diplo­matic re­la­tions,” he said proudly, adding that the an­nual growth rate over the past five years has been 16 per­cent.

He said com­pa­nies from both na­tions are more in­ter­ac­tive than ever and are in­vest­ing in each other’s en­ter­prises.

For ex­am­ple, Volvo’s Ghent plant has been boom­ing since China’s Geely took over, Qu said. Ev­ery minute the 5,300 lo­cal em­ploy­ees pro­duce one au­to­mo­bile, a pro­duc­tion rate that yielded a record high 250,000 au­to­mo­biles an­nu­ally. With

In March, Brus­sels was at­tacked by ter­ror­ists who set off ex­plo­sions at the air­port and in sub­way sta­tions af­ter the ear­lier at­tacks in Paris.

Qu said the in­ci­dents have had a “neg­a­tive” im­pact on tourism in Bel­gium, with some agencies and in­di­vid­u­als can­cel­ing their plans. The num­ber of tourists has been de­creas­ing over­all be­cause of safety con­cerns.

“But,” Qu said, “Bel­gium is still at­tract­ing a lot of Chi­nese in­vestors be­cause of its last­ing ad­van­tages.”

“We can see the trend is still on the rise be­cause the in­vestors, gen­er­ally, have a longer-term view when mak­ing strate­gic de­ci­sions,” he said.

He noted that, in fast-chang­ing sur­round­ings, it is hard to pre­dict the dan­ger of a ter­ror­ist at­tack, and ev­ery coun­try should bear the brunt of such risk.

“But,” he said, “con­tin­u­ing with nor­mal life in so­ci­ety is an­other way to fight ter­ror­ism.”

“It is not Bel­gium alone,” he said. “In this sense, ter­ror­ism at­tacks will not dis­cour­age in­vestors.”

FU JING / CHINA DAILY

Am­bas­sador Qu Xing says Bel­gium is not big, but it has tremen­dous global in­flu­ence.

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