On the afternoon of February 14, 2023, Yenching Academy of Peking University hosted the Ambassador of France to China, H.E. Laurent Bili, and other French Embassy officials for its first Ambassador Speaker Series of 2023. The talk titled “Human Exchanges: A Driving Force in French-China Cooperation” was attended by Yenching Academy Dean Dong Qiang, Associate Dean Fan Shiming, Yenching Scholars and staff, and other guests.
François de Navacelle (2022 Cohort, France) moderated the event. François delivered a brief account of the Ambassador, acquainting the audience with the Ambassador’s works and long diplomatic career.
Following the moderator’s invitation to take the podium, the Ambassador delivered his speech to an attentive and enthusiastic audience. His Excellency talked about his long diplomatic career, including his diplomatic role in China.
Furthermore, the Ambassador explained that diplomacy involved (mutual) trust between the parties involved, adding that without diplomacy, cultural and human exchanges, and language learning, “there is no ground for human relations”.
Mr. Laurent Billi concluded his speech by emphasizing that “investing in human exchanges is essential; it is a long-term plan that is necessary for diplomacy.” In this vein, he reflected on the role of education, scientific research, and culture as vital diplomatic tools between China and France, stressing how both countries continue to pursue cooperation through different international commitments and bilateral actions, including the Paris Agreement, academic exchange programs, and scholarships for researchers from both countries.
Several Yenching Scholars raised varied questions on international relations, EU-China-US trilateral relations, education, the pandemic’s impacts on diplomatic efforts, and infrastructure development, among others.
After the Q&A session, Prof. Dong Qiang delivered a remark, thanking the Ambassador for accepting the Academy’s invitation to speak at the event and bidding him farewell as he undertakes his new role in the United States. The Yenching Academy Dean emphasized the role of continuity, education and cultural exchanges in facilitating cooperation between China and France. Despite some issues between both countries that surfaced in the past, “one thing that stands out is that both national governments resolve their issues to ensure continuity in their bilateral ties.”
Prof. Dong Qiang noted that experience-sharing was a core aspect that defined the place of education and cultural exchanges, adding that experiencing the joys, laughter, scenery, and sometimes, problems of a place connect people and ensure the continuity of relationships. “The world is beautiful when it is tangible, when it can be felt; having the maximum experience is important,” the Dean expressed.
After his speech, Prof. Dong Qiang presented two gifts to Mr. Laurent Billi: one from Yenching Academy, and the other was a personal farewell gift from the Dean. The Dean wished the Ambassador the best in his new role and expressed his hopes that the Ambassador would continue to be a messenger and defender of peace.
The event closed with loud applause from the audience, appreciating the opportunity to meet with and listen to the Ambassador. Afterwards, everyone present went for a group photograph with the Ambassador and his team of officials from the French Embassy in China.