Keynote Speech at the China-Netherlands Business Forum
H.E. Li Keqiang, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China
The Hague, 16 October 2018
Prime Minister Mark Rutte,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my great pleasure to join you at the China-Netherlands Business Forum in this beautiful city of The Hague. On behalf of the Chinese government, I wish to offer warm congratulations on the opening of the Forum and extend sincere thanks to people of all walks of life who have long been committed to the friendship and cooperation between China and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
This year has seen many highlights in China-Netherlands relations. In February, President Xi Jinping met with His Majesty the King who visited China. The meeting provided further guidance to and boosted the growth of our bilateral ties. With the official visit to China by Prime Minister Mark Rutte in April and my visit to the Netherlands this time, we made an exchange of visits at the head-of-government level within a year. Such frequent high-level interactions have lent fresh impetus to our relations defined as an open and pragmatic partnership for comprehensive cooperation.
Being one of the earliest achievers of modernization, the Netherlands can be rightly proud of its accomplishments in many areas. It is the birthplace of the world’s first share-holding company, first stock exchange and first modern bank. It boasts one of the world’s highest per capita GDPs, and ranks as the fifth, the sixth, and the second largest exporter of goods, services and agriculture produce and food respectively. It is home to a great many well-known companies and brands, with half of its companies actively engaged in innovation. Just now I was given a presentation of some of the leading hi-tech products of this country, which left me deeply impressed by the scientific and technological prowess and industrial capabilities of the Netherlands.
Although our countries are far apart geographically, friendly interactions between our peoples go back centuries. As early as in the 17th century, Dutch merchants brought Chinese porcelain, tea and silk to Europe. Our cooperation has come a long way since the establishment of diplomatic ties, especially in recent years. The Netherlands has been among China’s top three trading partners in the EU since the year 2000, with two-way trade projected to approach US$90 billion this year. We each have about US$20 billion of investment stock in the other’s market. Eleven out of the 15 Dutch Fortune 500 companies have invested in China, and the Netherlands is now China’s second largest investment destination in the EU.
We owe such fruitful economic ties to our shared adherence to the principles of mutual respect and equality, to our commitment to openness, inclusiveness and mutual benefit, and to our tireless pursuit of pragmatism, enterprise and innovation. With so many business leaders present, let me say the growth of trade and economic cooperation between our two countries is, to a large measure, down to the hard work and wisdom of our business communities.
Yesterday, I had productive talks with Prime Minister Rutte. We reached important common understanding in wide-ranging areas. Given the strong foundation, enormous potential and great prospect of our cooperation, there is every reason that we should redouble our efforts to further broaden, deepen and elevate China-Netherlands cooperation.
We need to make the pie of our trade bigger. As China-Netherlands trade only accounts for 1.5% of the combined trade volume of our two countries, there is considerable space for further expansion. China is keen to import more manufactured industrial products, advanced equipment and quality agricultural produce from the Netherlands. This will better meet the needs of Chinese consumers and be conducive to industrial upgrading in China. The first-ever China International Import Expo will open soon. We look forward to the active participation of Dutch companies to showcase your capabilities and I wish you hefty orders in advance. Chinese products offer good value for money; over 70% of Chinese exports to this country are through entrepôt trade. I hope Dutch companies will fully capitalize on your strength as a transshipment hub to bring more Chinese products to the Dutch and the wider European markets. In view of the rapid growth in our trans-border e-commerce, it is high time we create better conditions, both in hardware facilities and the softer aspects, to give Chinese and Dutch consumers more choices and greater convenience.
We need to open up more space for two-way investment cooperation. China is ready to work with the Netherlands in creating a fair, non-discriminatory and transparent business environment for each other’s investors. Dutch companies are welcome to expand their investment in China by leveraging the synergy between their leading-edge capabilities and China’s huge market potential. In particular, I would encourage you to explore opportunities in China’s central and western provinces as well as traditional industrial bases in the northeast, which hold enormous development potential. You are also welcome to invest in development zones, pilot free trade zones or free trade ports in China which offer enabling conditions. On our part, we hope the Netherlands, a nation long committed to a free and open investment policy, will give fair and equitable treatment to Chinese companies who make investments in this country according to market principles and commercial rules.
We need to strengthen cooperation on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Having a long history of maritime trade has made the Netherlands a gateway to Europe. China is ready to work closely with the Netherlands in ports, logistics, customs and other fields to help build an efficient and smooth passageway between Asia and Europe. Companies of our two countries have been engaged in third-party cooperation on equipment supply, design and consulting. We need to further expand the areas and scope of such cooperation to deliver greater benefits to the local communities.
The BRI is an initiative for economic cooperation, not a tool of geopolitics. In carrying out BRI and third-party cooperation, we should follow market principles and prevailing international rules, and leverage the role of regional and international institutions. We should proceed from the national conditions of countries concerned and ensure transparency in project operation in order to keep the debt risks under control.
We need to cultivate new growth drivers in our cooperation on innovation. The people of our two countries are both known for being bold innovators. While the Netherlands has been a top-tier innovative country in the world, China has also implemented an innovation strategy in recent years to drive growth and fostered a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation across society. As the new round of industrial revolution gathers momentum, global industrial and innovation chains are becoming closely entwined. All countries are involved, to varying degrees, in this process, each contributing its share and drawing benefits in return.
The Chinese and Dutch governments have implemented three major cooperation programs on science, technology and innovation. We are ready to build on the existing foundation to upgrade cooperation in this field. We should enhance cooperation in human resource development, joint research and commercialization of research results, particularly in areas such as smart shipping, agriculture, water management, aviation and space, life sciences, electronic information, new materials, chemistry and environmental protection. Such cooperation, which draws on our complementarity, will generate more benefits than if we act alone.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
China-Netherlands cooperation is a fine example of China-Europe cooperation. The world today is undergoing profound changes. Yet no matter how the situation may evolve, China will always see Europe as an important pole in the world and the EU as a comprehensive strategic partner. China hopes to see the EU staying united, stable, open and prosperous. Given the growing uncertainties and destabilizing factors in the world economy, there is every reason for China and the EU, as two major economies, to enhance strategic communication and coordination, and respond to the challenges together.
We hope the EU will ease restrictions and increase the export of high-end equipment and high-tech products to China. We need to build on the progress in the negotiations of a bilateral investment agreement to push for substantive outcomes. A possible China-EU FTA would give a big boost to the growth of our economic and trade relations. We are ready to work with the EU to lay a solid foundation for the FTA by launching a joint feasibility study as early as possible.
To deepen China-Netherlands and China-EU cooperation, a free and open environment is indispensable. Yet, the rise of unilateralism and protectionism has dealt a blow to the multilateral trading regime. The rules-based multilateral trading regime, represented by the WTO, was built with long and hard efforts by all parties on the basis of learning the lessons of history. It has played an irreplaceable role in the global trading system. Trade among WTO members now accounts for more than 98 percent of global trade. China and the EU are both beneficiaries of the multilateral trading regime and advocates for upholding the authority and effectiveness of the WTO.
That being said, some of the WTO rules do need to be reformed and improved. China and the EU have established a joint working group for this purpose, which held its first dialogue not long ago. China maintains that the fundamental principles of the WTO, such as openness, transparency, inclusiveness and non-discrimination, should not be compromised. The direction of trade liberalization should continue to be followed. Reforms should accommodate the concerns of the majority of the membership, uphold the development rights and interests as well as the special and differential treatment of the developing members, and serve to narrow the gap between the North and the South. China supports fair trade as well as free trade. Without free trade, there will be no fair trade; trade that is unfair is simply unsustainable; be it free trade or fair trade, all trade should be based on universally recognized WTO rules.