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  • Press release: Global Design Collection of “Picturesque Zhejiang Travel Package” for the 19th Asian Games Hangzhou 2022

    The 19th Asian Games Hangzhou 2022 will be held in Zhejiang, China on September 23, 2023. Starting from today, the Zhejiang Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism and the 19th Asian Games Hangzhou 2022 Organizing Committee are accepting submissions for the Global Design Collection of “Picturesque Zhejiang Travel Package” for the 19th Asian Games Hangzhou 2022. We sincerely invite artists and creators to explore the beauty of Zhejiang with a cross-cultural perspective. Let us share our innovation and enthusiasm with the world and ignite the spirit of the Asian Games. APPLICATION LINK: http://www.ezhejiang.gov.cn/2022-10/09/c_818064.htm SUBMISSION DEADLINE –PLEASE NOTE THE DEADLINE FOR SUBMISSION HAS BEEN EXTENDED TO 24:00PM on November 28, 2022 WAY OF SUBMISSION: Email to the official email address (The title of the email should be “Designs of’Picturesque Zhejiang Travel Package’for the 19th Asian Games Hanazhou 2022+ Countrv + Name”.) E-mail address for applicants from overseas [design@europe-asia.org] Requirements: Awards BEST WORKS: Award certificate / a prize of USD 2,000 or two tickets for the opening ceremony of the Asian Games (excluding airtare and accommodation/ Asian Games souvenirs OUTSTANDING WORKS: Award certincate a prize of USD 300 / Asian Games HOSTED BY Zhejiang Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism The 19th Asian Games Hangzhou 2022 Organising Committee Office

  • Press release: EU’s leading role in the global Internet governance

    Brussels, 5th September – Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA) as the legislative step of the European block towards strengthening ‘EU’s Strategic autonomy’: high-level dialogue with European Parliament’s member and lead rapporteur dr. Andreas Schwab and Mark Boris Andrijanič, former Minister for Digital transformation, Slovenia With the rise and integration of digital platforms into all aspects of European life, EU recognized the need to regulate not only the benefits of digital transformation, but also the disadvantages and risks, such as the negative influence on the fundamental rights, state of democracies, societies and economies at large. It is through the legislative framework of Digital Markets Act that European strategic autonomy and tackling of the competition rules would be reinforced. In the opening address, the Chairman of Europe – Asia Center, Amb. (ret.) Piet Steel outlined: “the Digital Markets Act intends to ensure a high degree of competition and a level playing field in the European Digital markets by preventing big tech companies from abusing their market power, and by allowing new players to enter the market.” He furthermore highlighted EU’s leadership in regulating digital space with Digital Services Act. «The update of legal framework reinforces European Union’s efforts with illegal and harmful content, hate speech, political and health related disinformation, and so on and so forth ». He addressed the need for respecting rule of law and affirm enforcement, in order to take back control of its citizens’ fundamental rights and prevent digital abuses. In his keynote address Dr. Andreas Schwab, member of the European People’s Party (EPP) for Germans Christian Democratic Union Party (CDU) and lead rapporteur on DMA/ DSA stated: “…we Europeans want … the legislation to make sure that fairness and contestability of markets is ensured.” He furthermore addressed the significance of detailed outlining of the DMA/ DSA legislative framework and strong political commitment, demonstrating high level of responsibility the European Union has as the leading global regulator. He highlighted EU’s intention to defend democracies. “There can be no state authority that stops them (citizens) from being successful if they abide by the law. And there should be no company and no bottleneck in the digital area that stops them from making their success.” Existing business practices by the tech companies favour big countries, creating positive effect for them, yet at the same time creating harmful economic effect on the smaller ones. He concludes: “the Digital Markets Act starts a new era of tech regulation…And the choice between what is good and what is bad. It must be done with all stakeholders, competitors, with users and with consumers. And not only by those in control of the steering mechanisms of the bottlenecks.” Mr. Mark Boris Andrijanič, the former Minister for Digitalization of Republic of Slovenia shared his keynote address highlighting: “the current geopolitical tensions underpinned by the war in Ukraine, make the US leadership and regulating cyberspace even more important and indispensable than ever before. These circumstances also create a new sense of urgency for a multilateral approach to cyberspace governance, especially in areas like cybersecurity, digital markets, but also AI. There is absolutely no alternative to a comprehensive global dialogue, and action indeed, if we want to reverse the emerging trend of multipolar digital world.” He remains cautiously optimistic about Europe’s vision on an inclusive and human centric digital transformation, especially in light of EU’s weaker performance in creating and exporting digital services, digital innovation and technological progress vis a vis US and China. In order to create an environment that will breed Digital Champions of the future and allow European start-ups to scale their operations across the continent, the EU needs to «boost research funding and encourage closer collaboration between excellent universities and the industry». Mr Andrijanič emphasized that the Data Governance Act will create a European single market for data, essential for the growth of Europe’s digital economy. Furthermore, “the most significant contribution of the DSA is to introduce standard of illegal offline behaviour that should also be illegal online.” It was the alignment of interests between the so called maximalist and minimalist groups of the EU countries, which posed the key challenge during the Slovenian presidency of the EU Council in 2021, to limit the regulatory burden for the SMEs. He also elaborated on the AI Act, highlighting it as a pioneering piece of Europe’s digital legislation, seeking to codify the high standards of AI algorithms and their application, combining a risk-based approach with an effective enforcement mechanism. Legislative framework, which if successful in international dialogue, could already be adopted during the Czech presidency. Following the keynote address, Dr. Sebastian Hallensleben, a member of the expert advisory board of the EU standard ICT program stated: “we have to be clear that as important as the DMA and the DSA are, they are mainly focused on preventing the bad, and lack the focus on fostering the good.” He outlines three possible scenarios of future development. Firstly, in scope of digital transition we should not only look at platforms, but rather at protocols that are still to be established. Secondly, there is high necessity for integration of digital identities, enabling the inclusion of unverified accounts, accounts that are verified in some form and lastly, of identities that derive from different government issued IDs. With the existing scope of digital identities available, degree of danger remains and hence the need to re-think the digital identity and pseudonymous identity infrastructures as well as the privacy protecting identities. Lastly, there is a pressing need for encouraging the variety of competitors in developing new business models, moving beyond the model of sold personal data. Dr. Miguel Otero-Iglesias, from the IE School of Global and Public Affairs and Elcano Royal Institute, with applause for the new Act contributing to the comprehensiveness of the regulatory framework, expressed his concern about the consistency of the legislation. To secure the revolution and new social contract a success, there is need for deepening the fiscal union, in order to create a single market and capital markets. He furthermore illustrated his concerns in three aspects: firstly, the likelihood to create a special unit in the European Commission to deal with digital markets, secondly, the need for a periodic revisions of the legal framework and lastly, the development of technical and supervisory capacities to guarantee smooth communication and information flows. Full webinar available on the link: https://youtu.be/E0rVqj0aERY For press enquiries: Matic Gajšek, Deputy director Europe – Asia Center E-mail: m.gajsek(at)europe-asia.org

  • H.E. Erik Solheim, Former UN Under-Secretary-General: 75th Anniversary of India’s Independence

    Editorial contribution by H.E. Erik Solheim, renowned Norwegian diplomat, former United Nation’s Under-secretary General and Executive director of UN Environmental Programme. It’s time the world opens its eyes to how fast India is moving forward Money straight into the account of those who need it. This is how many poor people perceive that India has improved under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At the same time, he is building the world’s largest – and perhaps most successful – political party, the BJP. When India now celebrates 75 years as a republic, it may be time to focus on all the progress in the country? When India became free from Britain, life expectancy was around 30. Only a few could read and write. Life expectancy is now almost 70, nearly all children in India start in school and the richest Indian states in the south of the country, such as Tamil Nadu, have reached a lower European economic level. Every day, Prime Minister Modi implements programs that reach the poorest much more accurately than in the past, digital programs that all developing countries can learn from. When India’s previous governments wanted to support the poor, most of the money was lost along the way. Of 100 rupees earmarked for the poor, perhaps 15 reached the targeted people. The rest disappeared on the way to middlemen, in the central administration, in the states, districts and villages. It was not unusual for a village to register hundreds of fake benefit recipients so that middlemen could eat from the plate. A new digital economy makes it possible to break this curse. Now the government deposits the money directly into your digital account. The money is yours; no one can take it from you. The amounts are not always large, but the poorer you are, the more it means if there is suddenly 1,000 rupees (125 Norwegian kroners) in the account. Money you can track on your mobile phone. The poor get much stronger bargaining power when the money is sent to their account and earmarked for them and doesn’t go through middlemen you have to beg from. Power dynamics are changing. I have many horrible memories of seeing how poor people could not reach the ticketing desk of the railway station or the counter of the bank in ancient India. There were always better-dressed, better-fed people with pointed elbows who made their way to the front. Not infrequently, people in the bureaucracy licked the rich and powerful, while kicking down and scolding poor people. If you were of a low caste, it was best to walk with your hands outstretched to get at least some of what you were entitled to. Increase in financial support When Modi came to power in 2014, 108 million Indians received direct financial support from the state, writes Nalin Mehta in the book The New BJP. In 2020, the figure was 763 million. The amount paid increased 44 times during this period. The money is paid out in various programs and for many purposes. There are support measures in agriculture, support for gas to stop smoky kitchens, support for housing in the countryside or for the construction of toilets. “Swaatch Bharat”, or clean India, is Modi’s signature project. He has gone for a frontal attack on the open defacation that was common in rural India. When people did what they needed in the fields, it contributed to pollution, diseases and an unpleasant environment. Many women felt extra vulnerable to sexual abuse. Since Modi became Prime Minister, 100 million village toilets have been built. “Izzat Ghar” – house of respect Most interesting for us who want to bring development to the world is perhaps how this has been organized. Modi has brought in a new mindset, made possible through digital technology. The money does not go via the state, municipality or intermediaries. People who want to build get money and do it themselves. 10,000 rupees (1250 Norwegian kroners) is deposited as the first tranche into your account. The last 2000 rupees is paid once the toilet is geo-located and verified. You can choose to build yourself or hire people from the village to do the work. After Modi saw graffiti in Varanasi, where someone had called a toilet Izzat Ghar, he asked India to find synonyms in all twenty official languages. Izzat Ghar is Hindi and means “house of respect”. Toilets give people respect. A changed party In India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh, with 220 million inhabitants, 17 million toilets have been built. Perhaps that is why Modi’s party BJP became the first government to be re-elected in decades in Uttar Pradesh? As one observer commented: “You can build roads and pave them with silver and gold, but nothing happens with regard to voters. When people receive the money personally, it is something completely different.” For a European, perhaps the most surprising thing is that it is precisely the BJP, the Indian People’s Party, which has carried out this revolution for the poor. The change is total. The BJP was a male-dominated party that now has the most female voters. BJP was a high caste party. Now 70% of MPs come from low or middle castes. The BJP has managed something no Indian party has ever come close to – having equal electoral support among all groups of Hindus – high, middle and low caste. Now the BJP stands stronger than the Congress Party, which for half a century dominated India because they have a clearer ideology and much deeper roots among the majority of the people. I don’t know anyone who is betting their savings on BJP losing the next election in 2024. Criticized for welfare populism On his way to power, Modi has outmaneuvered his opponents by adopting and improving their policies. Modi presides over perhaps the most left-wing economic policy in India’s history, critics call it “welfare populism”. The state is actively used as an instrument in development and environmental policy in a way that should make the Norwegian social democratic prime minister blush. A very important part of Modi’s success lies in his focus on women. The BJP has more women in its leadership than any other Indian party. They have changed inheritance laws in India in favor of women. At the 75th anniversary now, the BJP elected Droupadi Murmu as the country’s president, to my knowledge the first woman from an indigenous population to lead an important country, moreover a woman from a low caste and with the most touching life story. Something really to be proud of! Almost all India-focus in Western media is on cultural conflict and disputes between Hindus and Muslims. These are important questions that I would like to discuss another time. But whatever one may think – there is less violence in India than on the vast majority of other continents. It is also permissible to be optimistic even here. Hinduism is a secular, not dogmatic religion and India can accommodate everyone. “We Indians are all seekers, we don’t believe in any absolutes” replied India’s perhaps most prominent spiritual leader Sadhguru, when I challenged him a couple of months ago. Absurdly, Modi gets almost no credit for all the historical and day-to-day progress in India from Western media and Western intellectuals. There, ignorance towards India is so total that it is not unusual to place Modi in the group of authoritarian nationalists, on a par with Bolsenaro, Putin, Trump and others. It’s time to open your eyes to how fast India is moving forward!

  • H.E. Violeta Bulc, former EU Commissioner for Transport & Mobility: Keynote address at “China and the shared future for Mankind: Exploring common Values and Goals” seminar

    Keynote address by H.E. Violeta Bulc, former EU Commissioner for Transport & Mobility (2014 – 2019) on the occasion of the launch of publication by Professor Martin Albrow and seminar “Exploring Common Values and Goals – China and the Shared Future for Mankind”.

  • Amb. (ret.) Piet Steel, Chairman of Europe – Asia Center: Address on the occasion of 25th Anniversary of reunification of Hong Kong with the People’s Republic of China

    Ambassador (ret.) Piet Steel Written by Ambassador (ret.) Piet Steel, Chairman of Europe – Asia Center and Consul General of Kingdom of Belgium to Hong Kong (1993 and 1997) As Consul General of Belgium in Hong Kong between 1993 and 1997, I was a privileged witness of the years leading to the reunification of Hong Kong with the People’s Republic of China. These were bonding years for me with the people of Hong Kong and its growing expat community, allowing me to get a deep understanding of the political, economic and social stakes behind the reunification. Since I left Hong Kong in 1997, I continued to travel to the Territory as Chairman of the Belgium Hong Kong Society and vice-Chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Business Associations Worldwide. At each visit I was comforted in my opinion that Hong Kong’s destiny and future were closely interconnected with the further political and economic developments in China. And that is what has happened since. On July 1st we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong, an “inalienable part of the People’s Republic of China” as internationally recognised in Article One of the Basic Law. This anniversary deserves to be honoured as an historic milestone in China’s millenary past. This is an occasion that couldn’t leave anyone who stands for peace and justice indifferent. The 25 years of “one country, two systems” have, admittedly, had their share of challenging moments, but overall the formula conceived by the paramount Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping and agreed upon with the British colonial power, to peacefully make Hong Kong part of China again, has proven to be successful and has demonstrated the extraordinary political foresight and vision of the then political leadership. News about the imminent demise of Hong Kong is a recurrent feature in the Western media, but the City today remains as vibrant as ever. Neither two serious health crises, nor grave financial turbulences, nor political strife, nor violent riots have shaken Hong Kong’s sterling foundations of stability and prosperity. Branded as one of the most diverse and dynamic cities in the world, Hong Kong has rightly upheld and fostered its unique position of a natural, vital and multicultural gateway to and from China, the rest of Asia and beyond. Hong Kong is Asia’s World City. Its stellar attributes of openness, ingenuity, entrepreneurial and cosmopolitan mind-set, hard work and steely diligence, are firmly rooted in the spirit and temperament of its people. As residents of a Special Administrative region in China, they will doubtless continue to strive for keeping their prominent place in Asia and the world. It is in the interest of China, Europe and the world to have a stable Hong Kong as a financial and technological powerhouse, playing a significant part in the consolidation of a multipolar global order. I wish Hong Kong and its people every success in the years to come. Hong Kong for ever!

  • Amb. (ret.) Piet Steel, Chairman of the Europe – Asia Center: Statement on Ukraine

    The address by Amb. (ret.) Piet Steel is a transcript of his keynote given at the webinar “Ukraine: What happened? What’s next?”, hosted by CCG – China Center for Globalization. While we are discussing this morning the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces, Putin’s air force continue to bomb indiscriminately Ukrainian cities. Kyiv is the new front line in this atrocious war. Before entering more in detail on the short term and long term repercussions of this invasion, let me express my utter horror and disgust at the blatant, unprovoked attack by Putin against an independent, sovereign, peace loving country. This is Putin’s war, not the war of the Russian people. In my long career as a Belgian diplomat, having been a privileged witness of the end of the cold war, I have never been so shell-shocked, never been so numb, listening to the news last week of the Russian invasion into Ukraine. This was unprovoked, without any justification whatsoever except lies and fake facts, without any legal ground, nothing, pure blatant military power on innocent Ukrainians. This is a senseless war, perpetuated by a cold dictator who thinks he can reshape the world according to his own wishes. Very emotionally, I say: NO PASARAN I want to pay tribute to the Ukrainian people and President Zelensky for their heroic resistance. They will prevail whatever the price they will have to pay for their ultimate victory. Sorry for this emotional words, but I am not only a retired diplomat but more importantly a father and a grandfather. How can I explain to them this kind of barbaric medieval violence coming from Russia, a country known for its rich culture and civilization? As I said, while we are discussing the faith of the valiant Ukrainians, their faith is left in the balance. What will happen after another terrible night in Kiev? Will there be a ceasefire soon to save lives and reputations? An even greater bloodbath? Total war? Total surrender? A tactical retreat of the aggressor? A civil war ? There are still too many open questions, but what is now already certain the Russian invasion of Ukraine will reshape, redraw the geopolitical map of Europe. Gone is the era of prudent appeasement and active cooperation with the Putin regime. Putin is definitely revealing himself as the archenemy of the free world, as a military gangster within Europe. This was already apparent after his incursions in Georgia, Crimea, East Ukraine, Moldavia, Syria, and recently Kazakhstan. It was further apparent after the shooting down of a passenger plane in 2014, and the poisoning and assassination of his political opponents. Until last week, the West tolerated his behavior and did not resist, or very little. Not anymore. Putin has achieved in one week what he has been trying to avoid the last twenty years. NATO, which last year was still declared “brain dead”, has found a new lifeblood, new vigor and new unity. In the short term we can expect to see more American boots on the ground in Europe, and in the medium term a genuine European defense. The defense spending, the strategic cooperation, the geographical presence: this will become more and more European. How Europe will pay for it, remains to be seen. The most amazing unintended consequence of Putin’s invasion is Germany which has this week decided to become a true military power in Europe, the first time since the end of the Second World War. As long as Putin is in power, democratic Europe will be in a permanent flux of conflict with Russia. Every European democracy, not a member of the EU or NATO will feel strategically threatened by Russia. The further expansion of the EU and NATO is now predictable. A new iron curtain will be erected. The invasion of Ukraine is a wake-up call for Europe’s relations with China. We will have to review significantly our relationship and our mutual dependencies. War should not mean politics but with other means. China’ first reactions against Putin’s invasion were ambiguous but its decision to abstain in the Security Council condemning Russia’s invasion is a hopeful sign that China eventually will choose to be standing on the right side of history, and side with the nations in favor of a rules and value based international order and opposing the law of the jungle. We remain hopeful that China will take up a mediation role to bring back peace and the rule of law. It is in its own interest and in the interest of the survival of this planet.

  • Press release: Europe-Asia Center Advocates Sports Diplomacy in Building Asia-Europe Relations

    Brussels, 11th January 2022 – With less than a month until the Winter Olympic Games Beijing 2022, the Europe-Asia Center has as part of the East-Meets-West webinar series highlighted the topic of Sports diplomacy. Titled “’Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together’ – The Importance of Sport Diplomacy in Building Asia-Europe Relations”, the webinar provides insightful dialogue with Olympic champions on significance of Olympic spirit. Sports diplomacy is a new term that describes an old practice: the unique power of sport to bring people, nations, and communities closer together via a shared love of physical pursuits. Though sport diplomacy is not new, the power of sport has never been more important for our current century. On 20 July 2021, the International Olympic Committee approved a change in the Olympic motto that recognises the unifying power of sport and the importance of solidarity. The change adds the word “together”, now reading as: “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together”. The change of the motto reflects on the longstanding three values of Olympism – excellence, friendship and respect. Sharing their insights on the topic were H.E. Ambassador (ret.) Piet Steel, Chairman Europe-Asia Center as well as of Special Olympics Belgium, the Winter sports Royalty and 4 Olympic medal-winner in Alpine skiing Tina Maze, Olympic champion canoeist Peter Kauzer, snowboarding star on the rise Tim Mastnak and President and Managing director of Special Olympics Europe- Euroasia David Evangelista. The webinar “‘Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together’ – The Importance of Sport Diplomacy in Building Asia-Europe Relations” Excellency Steel in his keynote address emphasized that sport is politically neutral and has the power of bringing the world closer. Therefore, sport should be used for uniting people, regardless of political differences and political tensions between countries. In closing note, he also conveyed his wish that Winter Olympic Games in Beijing would succeed in such attempt. The Slovenian winter sports royalty Tina Maze noted that sport is not only profession, but even more importantly a good balance to life. Ms Maze, multi-talented skier who won a total of four Olympic medals and nine for the World Championships, emphasized that “once you have a talent, you should really appreciate it, work on it and don’t throw it away”. She expressed the values and discipline acquired through sports plays an important role even for ordinary people, especially in this era of lockdowns and many of us are working with a sedentary lifestyle. As a world-class athlete and Olympic champion, nowadays also a renowned TV commentator and entrepreneur, Ms. Maze shared the experience of transitioning her career from professional sports into the sports industry. She emphasized the significance of communication in enhancing public awareness of sport. In a competition or a race, an athlete can only focus on the sport and has very few opportunities to talk. Being a TV commentator allows her to have a stronger voice: “I feel very comfortable talking about the experiences and it’s great that people can understand through communication.” Ms. Maze also expressed her positive attitude towards the impact of the Winter Olympics on the development of winter sports in China. She stressed the influence of sports heroes and idols: “They bring a will and a vision of what you want to become.” She believes that bringing Winter Olympics to China and other countries will benefit the future generations. Peter Kavzer, Slovenian slalom canoeist with two Canoe slalom World championship titles and Olympic silver medallist, shared a challenging journey in his athletic career. However, things that truly allowed him to not give up were his goals: continuously aiming and reaching for higher goals. In his view, every Olympian is training to be the best, to bring the best out of himself or herself and to reach their whole potential. That is the beauty of the sport and the Olympic movement. Regarding the upcoming 2022 Winter Olympics, Mr. Kavzer believes that the International Olympic Committee has made the right choice to select Beijing as the host city. He shared his experience at the 2008 Beijing Olympics when the Chinese Olympic Committee provided high-quality services for athletes and won his trust by successfully “coping with all obstacles”. Slovenian snowboarder Tim Mastnak has set a spotlight on his career by winning the Junior World Cup in parallel giant slalom in 2011. He will be heading as one of the favourites to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games. He looks at Olympic Games as a gift, an opportunity to feel the true spirit of sports and gain motivation for further improvement. He emphasized the importance of meeting outstanding athletes from other disciplines and getting motivational boast to reach the best of you. Rounding-up the panel discussion was David Evangelista, the President and Managing director of Special Olympics Europe/Euroasia who advocated for the societies to put more emphasis also towards the athletes with disabilities. It is the athletes with disabilities that in his words embody the true Olympic spirit and the very best of the Olympic ideals of solidarity and universality. Mr Evangelista, who oversees the program operations of Special Olympics in 58 countries in Western, Central and Eastern Europe as well as Central Asia, noted that sports is an “universal unifier”. The athletes and the audiences follow the same solidarity, the same grit, and the same discipline. Everyone can enjoy the simple thrill of competing in sports. He stressed on sports being the major driver for multilateralism and international cooperation. In response to the question of moderator Matic Gajsek about the transformative impact of the Beijing Winter Olympics on people with intellectual disabilities, Excellency Steel proposed that Beijing should strive for sending the uniting message to the outside world, which is the very same message that was sent by the Special Olympics European Summer Games 2014 held in Antwerp, Belgium. About 70 delegations from different parts of Europe and Eurasia attended the Games and used sport to break the taboo of discrimination against disabled people. “Athletes in Special Olympics are not there to represent their country; they are there to represent themselves. They are there to use sport as a means to express their weaknesses or strengths. Sometimes they have much more strength than you could imagine,” he added. Finally, Mr. Evangelista reiterated that mega sporting events have the unique ability to captivate the attention in the imagination of the global community, especially in the changing world where division is taking place across the political, sociological and in some cases, across the health and education spectrum. However, it is thanks to the Olympic movement we still see people who are brave in facing the hardship and uncertainty. Mr. Evangelista noted: “We have sport to cut through the noise to show the core of ourselves. Sport offers us the chance to put the words down – where only actions count.” Full webinar available on the link: https://youtu.be/931I9x33h4E — For press enquiries: Matic Gajšek, Deputy director Europe – Asia Center E-mail: m.gajsek(at)europe-asia.org

  • Manifesto on the Importance of Sport Diplomacy in Building Asia-Europe Relations

    Call to Global leaders, following the webinar “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together” – The Importance of Sports Diplomacy in Building Asia – Europe Relations The universal values of excellence, friendship and mutual respect are the foundations of the Olympic movement redefined through the modern manifesto of Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1892. These values are shaping the Olympic movement, and inspire all those who foster the spirit of harmonious partnership of the global community. With the original Olympics dating to 776BC in the era of Ancient Greece, the Olympic movement started as a Greek festival celebrating Zeus, the Greek God of sky and weather. The six-month long games that united athletes from city-states through competitions in wrestling, boxing, long jump, javelin, discus and chariot racing, remains an inspiration for modern times. Just think of of ‘Ekecheiria’ or “Olympic truce” which during the time of the games,was the personification of truce, armistice and cessation of hostilities allowing all the athletes and pilgrims to travel safely from their home cities to the games.. Ekecheiria belong to the core values of the Ancient Olympic Games. It is still more than relevant in today’s world. With the renewal of the Olympic Truce by the International Olympic Committee and a year later on October 25th 1993 with the revived Truce of the United Nations in their Resolution 48/11, the Olympic spirit constitutes the platform of dialogue for peace and security in the world. It aims aims at both mobilizing the Olympic spirit in the younger generations and at facilitating a genuine dialogue between communities in conflict, and creating a window of opportunities for global dialogue and reconciliation. On 20 July 2021, the International Olympic Committee approved a change in the Olympic motto that recognises the unifying power of sport and the importance of solidarity. The change adds the word “together” after an en dash to “Faster, Higher, Stronger”. Sports diplomacy is a new term that describes an old practice: the unique power of sport to bring people, nations, and communities closer together via a shared love of physical pursuits. Though sport diplomacy is not new, the power of sport has never been more important in our current century. The Olympics Games continue to be internationally significant event that unite people through the ultimate manifestation of the greatest achievements in the field of sports. Celebrating the upcoming Olympic year, we aim to highlight the importance of the Olympic spirit of “Faster, Higher, Stronger – Together” as an important driver f for human communication and development. The Olympic Games are a unique stage for athletes and a global showcase of unity conveyed through the Olympic spirit. In spite of the differences in cultures, languages, geography, colours and races, we share the charm and joy of the sport events worldwide, and together we seek for the ideal of humankind for peace. We belong to the same world and we share the same aspirations and dreams. And it is through the power of sport that facilitation of peace and bridging gaps between nations and cultures can happen. It builds long-term mutually beneficial partnerships with third countries and societies, particularly when relations have become estranged. Sport diplomacy extends the appeal of a nation’s people and culture to third countries through the cultivation of people-to-people links with grassroots initiatives becoming increasingly prominent. As the famous ping-pong diplomacy case illustrates, the visit between Chinese ping-pong athletes and their US counterparts in 1971 opened the door for people’s exchanges between China and the United States and paved the way for a sustainable Sino–US rapprochement. The changes that followed the event were so incremental that ping-pong diplomacy has been remembered as ‘a small ball making turn the big ball’. Ahead of the Olympic Winter Games hosted in Beijing, we as athletes endorse any initiative calling an open dialogue between the East and the West. We wish the Olympic Winter Games every success in uniting the world through the power of sports and the Olympic spirit!

  • Belgian Passage to China at Villa Empain, Brussels

    Brussels, 13th December 2021—The Europe-Asia Centre, as an affiliated partner, co-organised the launching ceremony of the Chinese version of A Belgian Passage to China, 1870-1930, a book containing unique and never before published images, letters, diaries and documents which present a historical record of Belgium-China interchange during the 60 years. The launching ceremony of the Chinese translation of the book took place at the Villa Empain, which was rebuilt and renovated by the Boghossian Foundation in 2010 as a centre of Art and Dialogue between Eastern and Western cultures. His Excellency Mr Herman Van Rompuy, President Emeritus of the European Council, and his Excellency Mr Cao Zhongming, the Ambassador of China to Belgium both attended the event and the former delivered a keynote address to the audience alongside the author and co-authors of A Belgian Passage to China, Dr Johan Mattelaer, Mr Charles Lagrange and Mr Thomas Baert. Ambassador (ret.) and Chairman of the Europe – Asia Center Piet Steel, gave his closing remarks on importance of initiatives such as the book ‘A Belgian Passage to China’ for strengthening the people to people context and dialogue between Belgium and China. In September 2020, the China Platform at Ghent University announced the publication of A Belgian Passage to China, 1870-1930. This book brings a forgotten episode of Belgium’s overseas history into the limelight, highlighting two Belgian infrastructure projects in China back then: the building of a power station and a tram network in Tianjin and the railway construction yards between Beijing and Hankou. In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic ties between Belgium and the People’s Republic of China in 2021, the Chinese translation of the book was released this year by China’s Social Science Academic Press. His Excellency Herman von Rompuy delivered a keynote speech at the launching ceremony. Before entering in some more substantive comments on the content of the book and on the relationship between China and Europe and between China and Belgium, His Excellency congratulated the main author of the book, Dr Johan Mattelaer, and the co-authors: Professor Mathieu Torck, Charles Lagrange, Roland Dussart-Desart, Patrick Maselis, Thomas Baert. He furthermore commented that this book was “very well written and impressively well documented, showcasing “the unsophisticated pictures of daily life in old China taken by Philippe Spruyt”, showing “the nineteenth-century buildings or trains, trams, factories”, and “the famous and less famous personalities”. His Excellency briefed the audience on the book’s content, particularly on China during the period of the 19th century, and about the people living in what was now Belgium — “their character, their adventurous spirit, the strong religious beliefs of many of them, their faculty to adapt to other cultures, their entrepreneurship”. This book also told its readers that the Sino-Belgian history started with missionaries who was attracted by Chinese culture, civilisation and people. Moreover, the Belgian industrialists discovered the huge economic potential of China in the 19th century when Belgium was an engineering powerhouse with trains, tramways and steel yards. His Excellency mentioned the perfection of the Villa Empain for this event, because Baron Edouard Empain was a pioneer who invested in Shanghai, smoothing the path of other big industrial ventures of which the railway between Beijing and Hankou (today Wuhan) and the tramways in Tianjin. His Excellency reviewed the benefit of China’s economic reforms in 1978. To illustrated this point, he took Dr Paul Baron Janssen, founder of Janssen Pharmaceuticals, who established the first Western pharmaceutical factory in China (Xi’an), as an example. Quoting Dr Mattelaer’s remarks to conclude the lessons learned from this shared Sino-Belgian history. It said: “…the personal histories of individuals and the major lines of history in general, are intended to serve as a record of times gone by, which may help readers of all ages to discover, remember and, above all, understand how the past can shape the present and the future, so that the people of the world can learn for their common heritage in order to acquire a better understanding of each other as that future unfolds”. His Excellency gave his opinion on today’s current economic, trade and political situation. He said “China has become an economic and technological power, a transformation that has caused significant changes to the established global economic order. The EU trade with China developed in such a way that China has become after Brexit our largest trading partner in 2020 before the US and the UK.” His Excellency pointed out that “the EU relationship with China is multi-faceted and complex”. First, China “is already the world’s largest economy in terms of purchasing power parity.” However, he didn’t believe in the Thucydides trap and historical determinism. Second, “the rivalry between the US and China does not lead to bi-polarity or a G2…Today there is more multipolarity or a-polarity.” Lastly, “globalisation has created over decades a strong economic interdependence between global actors…Chinese exports to the EU climbed by 33.5% year-on-year in November.” His Excellency believed that we must overcome the lack of trust between global actors and diplomacy — the alternative for war — should not only work with “like-minded” countries but also with those who think and act differently. At last, he expressed his thankfulness to Dr Johan Mattelaer for inviting him to this ceremony and his happiness for the agreement on a summit between the EU leaders and Chinese President Xi Jingping soon. The event was concluded with official hand-over of the first Chinese translation of the book ‘A Belgian Passage to China’ with Excellency Mr Cao Zhongming, the Ambassador of China to Belgium, author Dr Johan Mattelaer and Ambassador (ret.) Piet Steel. The launch of this book in combination with its Chinese translation, demonstrates the summary of Belgium-China historical diplomatic experience and cultural exchanges and is likely to be an auspice at this meaningful new starting point for exploring new ways and new areas of bilateral cooperation for the future, benefiting the peoples of the two countries and the whole world. Photos: Charles Yao (Europe – Asia Center, all rights reserved)

  • H.E. Violeta Bulc, Commissioner for Transport and Mobility (2014-2019): Strategic autonomy of the EU

    »Autonomy is the capacity of an agent to act in accordance with objective morality rather than under the influence of desires.”[1] Written by H.E. Violeta Bulc, European Commissioner for Transport and Mobility (2014 – 2019), Deputy Prime-Minister of Republic of Slovenia We live in times where every m2 of the planet is claimed. Where every citizen of the world has multiple identities[2], where glocalization is blurring the borders, where businesses are depending on each other globally, and the awareness along with knowledge is broadening the minds of individuals faster than societies can re-adjust. These changes seem to represent bigger and bigger challenge to the establishment, “old money” and self-proclaimed political elite who keep forgetting that the bigger the development gap is, the more conflicts emerge, larger the distance between citizens and the politics is, more extreme ideas surface, smaller the middle class is, poorer the economy and less capacity of the society to readjust to the forces of life. But the new is growing in spite of the resistance to change and many different scenarios are emerging. It is of the utmost importance that societies lay out different scenarios and be ready to re-adjust the understandings based on the emergence of new. At the same time the complexity of our societies is growing, concentrating over 80% of the global population in the cities, more and more activities are being exercised in Nature 3[3], infusing even more VUCA[4]characteristics. They are challenging our perception of life, our role in the Universe, our ability to respond, our ability to organise and act. The old leadership styles, organisational designs and governance models are no longer able to adequately respond to these changes, adding another layer of complexity to the unstable transitional period. We are more and more acting in the spirit of RUPT[5] behaviour without ever being trained or educated for it. Such lack of knowing adds confusion and spreads unnecessary fear and instability to our societies, making us even more vulnerable in the face of the laws of nature. In the middle of this dynamics the EU is searching for its strategic autonomy, looking for its space in the repositioning of global powers and the emergence of new global net based business and social models. The task is dealing not only with identification of the core strategic pillars of the EU’s sovereignty, but also addressing embedded differences between member states, e.g., historical, cultural, religious, national. But the good news is that such a debate is taking place. The EU has been seriously challenged in the last 10 years with one crisis after the other[6]. Each of the crises has shown the weaknesses and strengths of this ever-evolving European project. My intention is to argue that the EU needs a clear positioning around the major global trends, as well as some country specific issues. However, autonomy does not mean isolation. I would even argue that isolation is killing autonomy. The secret is in knowing what you want, how you want it and why and then engage with the rest of the world based on this basic intention. My invitation is that the EU gains a clear strategic autonomy over the following issues: 1. Democracy In spite of the fact that the number of democratic countries is rising, a closer look reveals that many of them are in transition, “pointing to the democratic fragility of many democracies. The number of weak democracies with low democratic quality is increasing”[7]. We can claim that this description applies to the EU as well. So, the EU has to decide if it wants to be a global reference point for democracy? Will it continue to invest in the rule of law, equal opportunities, gender equality, free press, collaborative decision-making systems? This is slipping away, and the EU institutions seem to be weak in defending this pillar of democracy. In the current situation there is room to evolve the EU democracy further. Some of the options for the next development stage might be found in the empowering of the role of citizens, increasing the participatory engagement, strengthening the governance over the key pillars of sovereignty, making a narrative of the EU’s democracy story, while removing the traces of the British legacy. Then lead and become a true global voice of democracy. 2. Digitalisation Digitalisation helped us to dramatically increase the number of connections with different subjects and objects through diversified communication channels, paving the way for receiving a huge amount of data and/or information at any given time of the day. With digital technologies came many discussions about »who is actually leading the world«, »who is creating our future«, »do we still have free will«, and above all, “who owns the data”. The citizens are trapped between 3 polarising global models: “all data are owned by a state”, “all data are owned by a corporation” and the EU model that deals with data from a perspective of the “users’ rights”. Yet, the citizens are left out in the open without definition of accountability and stewardship over assets for the next generation. Taxpayers, paying for a large proportion of R&D, do not profit from that research and investments directly. In the best-case scenario, they get a chance to buy them[8] back in the form of products, services and solutions. On top of democratic digital architectures like the internet and blockchains, new global monopolies are being built, pushing towards a technology-based world. Ideas like transhumanism, singularity and surveillance capitalism are used as a new global framework to control and manipulate with ought democratic governance in the interest of users and citizens. This is a great opportunity for the EU to push for a global regulator based on the users’ rights to create a safe and secure digital environment for the users and service providers. 3. Climate change Climate change is another shared challenge to human societies. Especially because of the lack of system approach and due to a narrow focus in our response to changes which on one hand are part of a natural Earth cycle, and on the other hand, are caused by humans speeding up the climate change process with pollution and overconsumption. The excessive use of the Earth’s resources and our misbehaviour brought us to the point that we are having a hard time to re-adjust. The Earth has seen many climate changes. However, the biggest difference in responding to climate change today compared to the past is that we can no longer move freely around the Planet. Today, all the land is claimed for, so any larger movement of people is associated with conflicts, destabilisation of societies, and even wars. So, for the first-time people are challenged to find adequate solutions for climate change at the place where they live. Such re-adjustments can only be built on a high level of solidarity, openness, collaboration and a shared vision for the Planet as a whole. The EU has experienced a double edge effect: on one hand a growing pollution due to the oil-based lifestyle, on the other hand more than 90% of all energy use was oil based, as well. So, in order to decrease the pollution, the EU needed to find a new, reliable energy source, possibly on home territory to decrease the vulnerability due to the fluctuation of the oil prices and the supply of oil. That was the major drive behind the green agenda, with additional positive social impacts like decrease of premature deaths due to the pollution, a new field for the burst of innovation and the creation of a higher value. The EU was the first global power to push for a green vision. It still has a chance to be among the most influential global green powers, however, it will have to move from projects to organisational redesign. In order to lead, the EU needs a system approach with the commitment to some painful organisational changes along the way. 4. Covid Covid crisis is another example of a poor use of system science in problem solving, adding another dimension to the overall complexity of global relationships. On one hand it showed a strength and capacity to deliver on the global science community when focused on a common goal. Yet, it also showed how vulnerable multilateral global agreements and collaborations are in the face of immediate threat or provoked fear. The pandemic has revealed a dark side of many leaders, lacking the capacity to engage with citizens and respond to crises collectively, based on trust, transparency and overall well-being. I hope we have hear​t​ the lessons of the Covid crisis. These times are really calling upon every citizen to go deep into their hearts and hear the truth and the invitation to stand up for an open, inclusive, democratic world based on solidarity, collaboration and shared vision that could just possibly be a new civilisational paradigm[9]. The EU got trapped in a panic and fear at the beginning of crises, forgetting about the basic democratic principles, giving up on freedom of speech, the right for a second opinion. Political and scientific behaviour were no longer open for possible different approaches and explanations, for example, the impact of air conditioning on the spread of virus, how to protect the healthy, how to strengthen the natural immunity. It rather became a dogmatic approach to a crisis that nobody really understood. The EU is now in a unique position to take a holistic approach to pandemic management and build a resilient public health system which includes citizens in problem solving and effective response. The world will listen. 5. Space Space seems to be a new “wild west” territory, where billions of taxpayers and private money is being engaged with any global regulator overlooking the actions and negative externalities. As a consequence, space debris is rapidly becoming a serious problem, entrepreneurs and individual countries are passing laws to allow companies registered in their countries to mine asteroids and possibly planets in our galaxy. Nobody is monitoring what is happening to our stratosphere. In spite of the good intentions of space dreamers in the 20thcentury, countries have not signed a common declaration for space exploration and rather moved the completion to space. The focus is on business, exploitation, territorial possessions, but nothing about the socialisation and democratisation of space, shared vision, common action plan. I dare to speculate, that the technology as we know it today will not get us to other planets, nor will it make us immortal. We are yet to discover a new law of physics and see the unseen. However, we can say that people on Earth have already benefited largely from the knowledge and technologies being developed from space explorations: medicine, sensors, filters, food packaging, new materials, kitchen cloths, ect. The EU is finally repositioning itself in the space ecosystem. Our space agency along with a very strong entrepreneurial base has a capacity to influence the global space game, focusing on space explorations with intelligent instruments, strong data mining capacities and AI based simulation systems. Maybe we are the ones who will show a completely new way of travelling through the Universe. Another opportunity for a stronger autonomy yet integrated in a large open space with a strong global governing body that the EU can infuse. 6. Global repositioning of powers In the face of all these global trends we are also seeing the repositioning of global powers. I expect in the near future there will be between 7 to 10 players with a fairly balanced global influence. It seems that traditional relationships where partnerships were able to hold in good and bad, might no longer exist. More and more partnerships are based on content, specific interests, emerged opportunities and long-term visions. Global actors are present in different subgroups pursuing different interests and focus with different partners. A good question is if the countries can survive this race? Corporations are trying their best to bring the countries under their wings of global dominance. The core power struggle is around the essentials for life like food, water, energy, talents, territories. If countries fail to create strong partnerships and focus on their core mission which is creating well-being for their citizens, they could simply disappear in the face of history. The EU has an advantage there. With a broad network of citizens’ participation and constant efforts to bring as many as possible on board for a participatory discussion, the EU is laying the foundation for a more sustainable mass engagement and mass innovation. And that is precisely it’s largest asset: diversity and people. In the last 500 years the EU has been gaining its global influence with inventions, technologies, science, philosophy, literature, new visions and understandings. That is the spirit that the EU could represent – reinventing the future not to be squeezed only in the framework of new technologies, but rather in a new mind set, new vision of the world, influencing all levels of our existence based on multilateralism, inclusion and democratic values. Conclusion The EU is a great example of diversity at its core in a sense of culture, history, climate, language, religion, politics, tradition. It is a place where many different ethnic groups throughout history have been seeking a safe place to continue to develop their ethnic roots. Such diversity is a fruitful field for high-end and mass innovation. It is to this diversity that we should be thankful for our strong immune system and ability to grasp the emergence of new. Our diversity is our strength to develop solutions for the world as well. The described topics could be the ones where the EU can potentially seek a greater level of autonomy. There are many more areas, but I rather see them as a consequence than the source of autonomy, like finance, security, investments, artificial intelligence, etc. And as one pointed out, “strategic autonomy is not a magic wand but a process, a long-term one, intended to ensure that Europeans increasingly take charge of themselves. To defend our interests and values in an increasingly harsh world, a world that obliges us to rely on ourselves to guarantee our future.”[10]. Yet, I have to add one more time, autonomy does not mean isolation, so the previous sentence needs a continuation “… in a collaborative, democratic engagement with other countries and peoples of the planet Earth for the benefit of our future generation and of our own”. I have faith in the EU to find its role in the newly emerging world. As a promoter of democracy and hope it can evolve into a truly global soft power that is not endangering but rather fostering the world to thrive. [1] https://languages.oup.com/google-dictionary-en/ [2] local, regional, global, planetary; brands, lifestyle, political parties, religions, and many more. [3] Nature 1 = forests, waters, meadows, mountains: Nature 2 = cities, Nature 3 = augmented/virtual reality [4] VUCA = Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous [5] RUPT = Rapid, Unpredictable, Paradoxical, Tangled [6] Post financial crisis, terrorism, refugees, Brexit, change in USA foreign policy, climate change, covid [7] https://www.idea.int/sites/default/files/publications/chapters/the-global-state-of-democracy-2019-CH1.pdf [8] pay again [9] www.ecocivilisation.eu is a global movement observing the global trends from a societal point of view building a system of leverage points to be used for the evaluation of the civilizational cycle and possible moderation of the transition towards a new civilizational paradigm [10] https://eeas.europa.eu/headquarters/headquarters-homepage/89865/why-european-strategic-autonomy-matters_en

  • Calling for EU’s Strategic Autonomy in the Era of Global Internet Governance

    Brussels, 28th August 2021 – At the first in series of webinars organized by the Europe – Asia Center, the ‘EU’s Strategic autonomy’ as the new central concept of the European project was at the core of the dialogue of high-level panelists. The last European Council raised “strategic autonomy”1 to the level of a central concept for a new phase of the European project. Building European strategic autonomy on a horizontal – cross-policy basis is expected to – strengthen EU multilateral action, reduce dependence on external actors, and make the EU less vulnerable in areas such as energy, disinformation digital technology. With cyberspace governance becoming the new dimension of reality, amplified and transformed by the combined effect of the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial intelligence (AI), the specific area of governance is still lacking consistent and less fragile policy framework, mitigating the growing geostrategic competition. In the opening address, the Chairman of Europe – Asia Center, Amb. (ret.) Piet Steel said: “States around the world are making digital autonomy, technological supremacy, and innovation the cornerstones of their diplomatic, security and economic efforts. And the European Union is no exception. It’s laying the foundations of multiple sovereignty for the next 20 years.” He furthermore addressed the significant impact that emerging technologies and increasing digitalization has made, becoming the prime drivers of globalization and international competition. It is in times of crisis, such as the world faced with Covid-19 pandemic, that importance digital transformation in all aspects of society was highlighted. In the EU thinking, technological autonomy and sovereignty are not contradictory with the new opportunities for multilateral cooperation and innovation, nor are there any contradictory developments with the rules-based international open trading system. Following with keynote address to the panel, H.E. Violeta Bulc, Former EU Commissioner for Transport and Mobility (2014 – 2019) stated: “We should never forget that technology is only a tool, not the goal… We can actually give humanity another chance and evolve together with our knowledge, the proper tools that will keep us to thrive towards the next century.” She furthermore addressed the lack of governance in the digital sphere, which through a range of global digital solutions continue entering every single area of our societal and individual engagement. And as the cornerstone of digital autonomy there must be trust, built first and foremost through personal (people to people) communication and relationship. The key question in era of Internet governance is furthermore on the ownership of data, where Europe is steering the ”user-rights centric” model, navigating between other imperatives of major nations. Those technological challenges pose a multilateral opportunity not for defining the more dominant systems, but rather the basic human principles that define humanity. Following the keynote points, the expert panel reflected on some of the key issues raised. Ms. Mireia Paulo, from Faculty of East Asian Studies, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany highlighted the need for conceptualization of governance in internet era. “We also need to recognize that the more precise we want to be, the more difficult it will be to sometimes move forward. For that reason, maybe looking at which transversal areas would be also important to push forward on this autonomy“. She concludes that the key EU issue is both development and implementation of strategic autonomy in the existing geopolitical world, requiring a complex stakeholder involvement. The chairman of Joint European Disruptive Initiative – JEDI, Mr. André Loesekrug-Pietr highlightedthe need for an understandingof the state of deep tech revolution that is creating impact on our societies. With today’s technological breakthroughs coming mostly from the convergence of different scientific disciplines, there is furthermore the need to change the existing business model imperative. It is the underlying business models that steer innovation and « the two key success factors in the technological century we are in, are the need to be long-term oriented, while on the other hand very contradictory remain the agile ». Concluding the discussion, Dr Miguel Otero-Iglesias from IE School of Global and Public Affairs and Elcano Royal Institute added: “We are really in a moment where the United States and China for the next decades will compete in all areas, starting from trade wars and most recently the tech wars. So that’s the context. The key challenge is our operation with a very Euro-centric approach, from values and human rights that we perceive as the right way. The almost missionary kind of instinct, where I think we might be in an illusion.” He furthermore contextualizes the perspective of international political economy, where four key values exist: security, wealth, justice and freedom. And each global force has their most important, for instance, in the United States where most important value is wealth and the understanding that wealth will bring you freedom. European perspective on the contrary considers justice as most important, with our belief that justice and equality will bring us freedom. And it is due to such difference of values that persuasion for the new global governance in digital space is such a challenge – already on the EU level and ever more challenging in global multilateral dimension. He concludes with thought that “in interoperability between those ecosystems we create the global governance ecosystem and in context of great power rivalry, Europe might consider creating its own”. Full webinar available on the link: https://youtu.be/-WEMM-5n7-A — For press enquiries: Matic Gajšek, Deputy director, Europe – Asia Center E: m.gajsek@europe-asia.org M: + 31 63 452 75 80 / +47 922 89 871

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