European and Chinese leaders are in Brussels for the 15th EU-China summit. Traditionally, trade, the economy and the environment have topped the agenda and this time looks set to be no different. A spat over cheap Chinese solar panels is one issue expected to dominate discussions. In addition, EU leaders are also expected to use the summit to push Beijing to change its stance on Syria.
Despite such differences, relations between the two powers are increasingly close. Speaking from China town in the Belgian city of Antwerp euronews’ Isabel Silva said: ‘‘One of the clearest signs of deepening ties between Europe and China is the flow of students in both directions. In Belgium alone, there are 2,300 Chinese students. Many young Europeans also want to work in China.’‘
While it is unclear whether Europe’s economic crisis is encouraging EU citizens to learn Chinese, it seems a growing number of Europeans want to pick up the language.
In September, Antwerp’s Management School launched its own masters degree in ‘China-Europe Business Studies.’‘ In all, 16 students signed up. The course is divided between study time in Belgium and China so students are able to put theory into practice. But as some of them warn, big cultural differences, especially in the way business is done, remain.
“Before I came here, I worked as a Chinese teacher for two years and I have seen that people had lot of misunderstandings because of different cultural backgrounds. So, we definitely have to adapt a lot,” Chinese student Guilan Yang said.
“If you take the example of Macdonalds, it does not sell beef in India and it sells beef in Europe, so these are the cultural impacts that you should have to take care of when you are expanding your business to other markets,” British student Bhupinder Bedi said.
But, do such cultural differences have an impact at a diplomatic level and has the relationship between the EU and China changed in recent years? According to the university programme’s director one recent development is China’s willingness to use its growing economic clout to influence global policy.
“Before, China really pushed on exports and its external economy. Today China is also trying to set up a kind of sustainability in development, trying to bring key issues like urbanisation and in this China already works with Europe.”
One thing EU and Chinese officials have already failed to agree upon, is a format to deal with the media after announcing the cancellation of a planned news conference. They will surely be hoping talks on trade and other issues will be more productive.