On November 22, 2018, Belgian Ambassador Mr. Marc Vinck visited Yenching Academy where he spoke with Yenching scholars about cross-border dialogue between Europe and China. For many scholars who came to Yenching because of their interests in international relations, hearing from an ambassador about his experiences in diplomacy was eye-opening.
The ambassador began by explaining his colorful and diverse experiences in establishing diplomatic relations between Belgium and countries such as Vietnam, Morocco, Congo, Ukraine, and Saudi Arabia etc. While abroad, he managed and ran embassies in various countries, helped to deal with the Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia, and even helped with organizing peaceful election processes in Congo. He recounted to students that during his time in Africa, he began seeing China's influence in the African sphere, with many Chinese companies coming to invest and buy up African companies.
However, his main focus as the Belgian Ambassador to China is his work in developing Economic Diplomacy, which as he explained to the scholars, is categorized with the four Is:
1. Information: where the Belgian embassy works to provide strategic information about business opportunities,
2. Introductions: where he and his colleagues work to connect companies to the right business partners in China,
3. Intervention: where diplomats must intervene when problems arise in transactions and investment projects etc. and
4. Image: to strengthen Belgium's public image of creating quality goods.
Ambassador Vinck spoke of the major transformation process that China has and is still undergoing and how as a powerhouse, China has the capacity to influence the entire world's economic performance. With such rapid changes, questions of fairness have cropped up, with the balance looking like it is skewing in China's favor. According to Mr. Vinck, this in turn is what drives the work of diplomats, who must strive to create an environment where all parties can engage on a level playing ground for win-win situations.
Ambassador Vinck outlined three dimensions that he must deal with in his work. The first include partnerships and the need to safeguard them. The second is of developing healthy competition. He observed that as China moves its manufacturing capabilities up the value chain, China is now becoming a larger competitor in the high-quality and high-tech area. With this fast development and the rapid introduction of such a major player, many European companies will soon (or are already) facing new challenges. Thus, he emphasized the need for stronger institutional dialogue, and new instruments such as investment treaties to level the playing field.
The third dimension involves China's model that is proving to be very successful, albeit confusing for many in the EU. With China's strong centralized government and the lack of democratic instruments that the West understands, this model has inevitably influenced the cross-border dialogue between China and Europe, a challenge that he believes can be tempered with better mutual understanding.
With this point, Mr. Vinck highlighted the real lack of understanding of Chinese culture among many of his peers in Belgium. The root of this intellectual gap, he points out, stems from the deficit in Belgium's curriculum in educating students about China. What he sees as a major problem, is this intellectual gap and the work that must be done to close it. “When people understand that China will be a major player, therefore there will be a major responsibility to understand and respect this major player”.
To develop better understanding and dialogue between Europe and China, he suggests not only encouraging tourism but also using social media to correct public opinion. The importance of improving this cross-border dialogue is why he believes Yenching Academy is playing an important role in bringing young minds to understand China from the ground up. Before opening up the floor to questions, Mr. Vinck asked the scholars what they thought are the more productive roles in building this dialogue.
The scholars countered with questions on social media and cyber security's role in creating this dialogue, on China's multilateral engagement, on EU's role in migration. With the conclusion of this talk, it became clear why it is so important to engage in these dialogues. Ambassador Vinck closed with words of encouragement to scholars to engage in dialogue, and to not shy away from aspects that may be harder to tackle.