Speech by Prime Minister Rutte at the trade dinner in Shenzhen, China

Speech by Prime Minister Rutte at the trade dinner in Shenzhen, China 26 March 2015

Ladies and gentlemen,

These days Dutch media are full of reports about China – which makes perfect sense. Because even though our countries are thousands of kilometres apart, the Netherlands and China enjoy ever closer ties.

I recently read an interview in a Dutch newspaper with Wang Dexian, the CEO of the Huawei telecoms company in the Netherlands. A man known as ‘Wonder Wang’, thanks to his remarkable achievements. Huawei is very active in my country, building 4G networks, providing local government intranet and installing Wi-Fi in Amsterdam’s football stadium.

Well-known Dutch chains like the drug store Kruidvat, ICI Paris XL and waste processing company AVR are now partly owned by Chinese companies. And Dutch businesses are focusing on China like never before. That’s clear from their keenness to take part in this and other trade missions. For years, the Netherlands has been one of China’s top three trade partners in Europe. In 2014 mutual trade totalled almost 44 billion euros and it’s still growing.

Where does this mutual interest come from? Perhaps because, despite our differences, we also have things in common. When Wang Dexian was asked why Huawei had opted to base three offices in the Netherlands, he answered ‘because of the [Dutch] openness and the culture of innovation.’

That culture of innovation isn’t found only in the Netherlands. It’s in China, too, and that creates a bond. It makes us curious about each other. It makes us want to learn from each other. And where better to do that than here, in this city?

More patents are applied for in Shenzhen than anywhere else in China. According to Forbes magazine, it’s the most inventive city in China. And Forbes has named Eindhoven, in the Netherlands, as the most inventive city in the world. We must exploit this wealth of ideas, this blossoming of invention, both here and in the Netherlands. And that’s why we’re here today. There are now 36 Dutch companies in Shenzhen. But we need many more, and I’m very optimistic about the opportunities.

Opportunities to do business and opportunities to share knowledge. In fact, partner cities Almere and Shenzhen are already doing that. At first glance, you might think they had little to offer each other. Shenzhen has a population of 14 million – Almere fewer than 200,000. Yet the two have a lot in common. They are both urban growth centres near a large metropolis. And many of their inhabitants were not born there, but come from elsewhere. Almere and Shenzhen help each other with urban planning, for instance. Take transport networks. How can railways, airports, cycle paths and roads be linked most effectively?

That culture of innovation, here and in the Netherlands, also helps us to address the common challenges our countries face. How do we ensure safe and adequate food supplies for an ever-growing population? What forms of energy will be available to us in 2050? These are issues that Europe and China are tackling. And it’s precisely here that our innovative power is so useful.

Wang Dexian chose the Netherlands because of its openness and culture of innovation. But, as he says in the interview, ‘We also discovered later that the Netherlands is a good gateway to Europe.’ Indeed, the port of Rotterdam, Amsterdam Airport and excellent links to the rest of Europe mean that my country has a lot to offer in this respect. That was why President Xi Jinping chose the Netherlands as his first European destination for a state visit.

Trade has always been at the heart of our relationship. But we have also grown more and more curious about each other, and each other’s culture. In 2014 the number of Chinese tourists in the Netherlands increased by an impressive 18 per cent. I see this trend myself, from my office in The Hague – crowds of Chinese tourists walk by every day. And this city is a place where different cultures meet and inspire each other. For instance at the Shenzhen Bi-City Biennale of Architecture/Urbanism, where a Dutch creative director has been appointed.

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s plain that Sino-Dutch ties are getting closer. Because despite all our differences, we have plenty in common. And when something’s unfamiliar, we want to learn more about it. That’s true of both our cultures.

There are great opportunities to be seized on both sides. And that’s of course a matter for you, not me. Because although good contacts at the highest political level are important, in the end it’s all about companies. They’re the ones doing the business.

Let me conclude with a saying by Confucius. He said that we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak. So I’d best leave the talking to you now, while I listen! Thank you again for receiving us in this inspiring city. And here’s to a meal that will prove equally inspiring!

Thank you.