Brussels, 12 Oct 2006
The China-EU Science and Technology Year (CESTY) was officially launched in Brussels on 11 October. Through a series of events planned in Europe and China, the year-long initiative is expected to stimulate further dialogue between the two regions on science and technology (S&T) strategy and policy, and foster a more enduring exchange of ideas, people, and resources. Enhanced cooperation will be sought specifically in the areas of health, energy, environment, food and biotechnology. The EU has been engaged in scientific cooperation with China in various research fields since the late 1980s. In 1998, leaders from the two regions formalised this cooperation with the signing of an S&T agreement, which was renewed in 2004..
In recent years, relations have been developing rapidly. In 2003, China joined the EU in two major projects requiring massive funding: ITER, the experimental thermonuclear reactor, and the Galileo satellite navigation project. The country has also increased its participation in the EU's research framework programmes to become one of its largest third party partners. Under the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) alone, there are now over 150 Chinese organisations participating in more than 130 joint research projects, amounting to €900 million.
Attending the launch ceremony, Chinese Vice-Minister for Science and Technology, Wu Zhongze, said that the forthcoming Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) and China's recently launched medium and long term S&T plan (covering 2006-2020) would give renewed impetus to relations between the two regions. 'It is high time that we seize the opportunity derived from the formulation and implementation of these strategies on both sides to deepen mutual understanding of each other's strategic orientation, objectives, policies and other relevant aspects with a view to usher in a new stage of our joint endeavor,' he said.
Mr Wu went on to say that closer cooperation spanning basic research and technological innovation would lead to social and economic progress and technological development on both sides. 'As an important pole in the global economy and S&T arena, the EU boasts much strength in a number of fields, while China, as the biggest developing country, presents huge market potentials and opportunities for development with its rapid economic growth,' he added.
Also speaking at the opening ceremony was European Commissioner for Science and Research Janez Potocnik, who agreed that it was in the interest of both regions to work more closely together in S&T. 'In a globalised world, alliances can produce more than rivalries. The EU and China have recognised this in a series of agreements, covering many areas, signed to date.. I am pleased that now we have the China EU Science and Technology Year to showcase our cooperation in the area of science and technology,' he said.
The need to work together is more urgent now than ever before, said the Commissioner, in light of the common challenges facing China and the EU such as shrinking energy resources, health scares and climate change. 'Climate change may be taking place faster than we thought. Avian flu may be mutating to spread to humans more easily. And oil reserves may be lower than estimated and being consumed more rapidly. These are all only possible.. But waiting to find out if they are true is not an option. So we need to help our researchers to look for answers,' said the Commissioner.
Closer cooperation in researcher mobility would also give a boost to Europe's ability to innovate. 'Both the EU and China know that innovation starts with knowledge,' said Mr Potocnik. Thanks to its strong emphasis on education, it is estimated that China is producing more graduates than either the EU or the US, especially in the exact sciences and in areas where the EU lacks graduates, such as science and engineering. 'This is just one of the many reasons why it would benefit both sides if more European researchers participated in Chinese research programmes,' said Mr Potocnik.. 'It would give European researchers more access to China's expertise, while spreading knowledge in both directions.'
On transforming research into commercial success, the Commissioner said that Europe had to change its mentality towards working with industry, and underlined the need for more R&D funding, both private and public. He suggested that Europe could learn a thing or two from China about innovation. 'Innovation breeds investment. China is reaping the rewards of this already. In just the first half of this year, EU companies invested almost 𔚻 billion there, up 20% on last year's figure,' he said.
In a press conference following the launch ceremony, Mr Potocnik was asked to respond to the concerns of European business leaders over China's inadequate enforcement to date of intellectual property rights (IPR). While accepting that the current lack of protection for ideas and products was a big disincentive to innovate, Mr Potocnik was optimistic that change is on the way. He referred to the recent EU/China summit at which leaders expressed a willingness to strengthen cooperation on IPR protection. Mr Wu also gave assurances that China was committed to intensifying relevant legislative efforts and law enforcement to underscore the protection on IPR. Both regions endorsed a recently launched pilot scheme which is expected to tackle this issue, thereby facilitating commercial exchanges between China and the EU.
Over the next 12 months, a number of events are lined up to celebrate this year of cooperation, and to showcase China and the EU's respective accomplishments in S&T: They include:
- Information Society Technology (IST) Conference in Helsinki, Finland, 21-23 November 2006;
- EU-China Business Convention in Le Havre, France, 6-8 December 2006;
- Mobility for Researchers Conference, Berlin, Germany, spring 2007;
- Bio-partnering Europe and China, Shanghai, China, spring 2007.