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February 10, 2011

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China and Europe get a little closer

BARBARA Rieger has unexpectedly made good friends with a Shanghai girl in Brussels, Belgium right before she is heading to the Chinese megacity for an internship program later last month.

"I have never been to China before and it is so nice to meet Wang Xi from the place where I am going to," says Rieger, 29, a teaching assistant from the University of Vienna.

Rieger and Wang, also 29, got to know each other at a workshop during the opening ceremony of the 2011 EU-China Year of Youth that kicked off in mid-January in Brussels.

The year-long program, co-hosted by the European Commission and the All-China Youth Federation, was jointly initiated by Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso in 2009.

The opening ceremony was the first of a series of exchange activities to be held throughout the year in Europe and China, and Rieger and Wang were two of the 200 young representatives who met for the first time and exchanged ideas on a variety of issues including volunteering, mobility, culture and creativity.

"The young Europeans and Chinese all mixed after a while and I talked to about 15 Chinese boys and girls in a couple of hours," Rieger says.

As the program aims to strengthen youth understanding and friendship as well as encourage young people to support the development of EU-China ties, the EU and Chinese leaders also signed for the first time a joint declaration on strengthening dialogue and cooperation on youth issues.

"To some extent, this year is just a beginning. We are planting seeds, kind of launching the challenges for the future cooperation," said Giuseppe Porcaro, secretary-general of the European Youth Forum.

The forum represents about 100 youth councils and organizations from across Europe.

In fact, many of the 200 young Europeans and Chinese are already looking for potential partners among their new friends. Michal Onderco, a volunteer in the Youth Council of Slovakia, joined the event in the hope of building networks with Chinese youth organizations.

"Every time I sat on the bus to the hotel, I met a couple of new Chinese friends. My pockets are now full of their business cards," says Onderco, who is especially impressed by the strong desire of Chinese youth to form contacts.

Onderco is quite optimistic about the outcome of the event, saying he hoped it would bridge the differences between the European and Chinese young people.

"The more we meet each other, the less we are afraid of each other, and of course the more we are ready to cooperate," he says.

In the near future, there will probably be more young Europeans traveling to China for study or volunteering projects, and vice versa.

They are believed to share and multiply their experience when returning to their own communities.

"We will have a generation of leaders who knew each other since they were young so the partnership and friendship is going to be much more solid," Porcaro says.

Ambassador Song Zhe, head of the Mission of China to the European Union, also stresses that young people can invigorate and extend the boundary of China-EU relations.

More interaction

"Youths are pioneers for people-to-people exchange, and young people shoulder an important responsibility to promote healthy, sustainable and long-term growth of China-EU ties," Song says.

The official website of the 2011 EU-China Year of Youth has also been launched. Wu Wei, a senior official with the All-China Youth Federation, encourages young Internet users to have as much interaction as they can.

"We'd like to adjust the program if young people have good suggestions. Also, a lot more youths from Europe and China can make friends in the virtual world," Wu said.

As Barbara received cute dolls and kissed her Chinese friends goodbye, they promised each other to keep in touch online. She was also glad to know that her best Chinese friend Wang Xi would travel to Germany soon for an internship project and hopefully visit her in Vienna, Austria.

"She will teach me some Chinese and I will teach her German on the Internet, and we are actually putting the idea of 'learning from each other' into practice," Barbara says.

The Chinese official website for the 2011 EU-China Year of Youth is

The English version is at


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