Hong Kong, 7 November 2003 - Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner, besides opening a roundtable discussion on environmental issues, conducted talks on economic issues and the future of the Special Economic Zone with Chief Executive TUNG Chee Hwa in Hong Kong today. The Foreign Minister also took the opportunity to take stock of her visit to China, stating: "Thirty-two years are not a long time in the history of peoples - and especially not for a people looking back on a history spanning 5000 years, as China does. China has undergone a sea change since my last bilateral visit in 2001. Without exaggerating I can say that I have come to a new country. And such a transformation is not always easy." (Note: Austria initiated diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China on 28 May 1971).
Turning to the topic of necessary changes, Ferrero-Waldner made a comparison between Austria and China. "In Austria we are currently experiencing the fact that transformation and structural change can hurt - even though the changes are indispensable for safeguarding the competitiveness of our country. If I compare people’s readiness to cope with structural change, I perceive with respect how the Chinese population is coming to terms with some really radical reforms and the burdens they entail,” the Foreign Minister said.
In the past few days Ferrero-Waldner had been able to see with her own eyes that China is facing "extraordinary challenges." The transformation of the world’s most populous country from an agricultural to an industrial society, the privatisation of industry, the reform of the banking sector, the creation of an efficient social security and health system and the introduction of the rule of law – "all these are huge tasks that require many sacrifices of its people."
In the opinion of the Foreign Minister, the economic and social changes in China have changed Austrian-Chinese relations as well. Austria’s trading activities with China have increased enormously; alone in 2002 Austrian exports to China surged by 38%. China continues to post strong economic growth (estimated at 6%) fuelled by high public-sector investment activity and supported by the consumer spending of a growing middle class with a high disposable income. "In other words: "China is one of the major global markets of the future and it is of eminent importance that Austria acknowledges China’s key economic role with high-level visits," Ferrero-Waldner said. Austria, as the Foreign Minister said, in practice enjoys "privileged" treatment by China, which, of course, must continue to be promoted in the future. China shows great interest in Austria, not only in economic terms, but also with respect to social and societal issues." This is evidenced by the fact that last year alone more than 130 Chinese delegations came to Austria to conduct talks.
"Made in China" is a well-known trademark for Austrians, Chinese restaurants form part of the gastronomic landscape of every Austrian town and have many fans everywhere, Ferrero-Waldner went on to say.
"Within the framework of our good bilateral relations with China, Austria also participated in the elaboration of the basic approach of the new EU Country Strategy Paper for China," the Foreign Minister said. This Paper among other things calls upon the Member States to increase the dialogue on bilateral issues regarding trade and investments. Dialogues already established in areas such as environmental matters are to be stepped up. For this reason I set great store by the fact that the economic delegation accompanying me on my visit should have environmental technologies as one of its focal points." One of the Foreign Minister’s principal goals for her talks in China was to use her good political contacts to enhance the excellent opportunities China offers for the Austrian economy.
In the opinion of Ferrero-Waldner, the consequences of the reforms that China has initiated since the 1980s go far beyond the economic sphere of life and have an effect on our relations in general. Thus Austria and China have developed "a new partnership" that is of exemplary character in other areas too. Many Chinese students are currently pursuing studies in Austria. Among Austrian students, studying in Beijing, Shanghai or Nanjing is viewed as a valuable tip and additional qualification for getting a well-paid job in industry. "These young people reflect our two countries’ mutual interest in one another, and they are at the same time a guarantee that the future relations between our countries will be characterised by an atmosphere of understanding and friendship," Ferrero-Waldner said. More than 60,000 Chinese tourists visited Austria last year alone, and trips to China have become an important part of the programme of Austrian tourist agencies. "In this way, our relations have been enriched by an additional human dimension, which was previously lacking and which will certainly change the nature of our relations," the Foreign Minister said.