Speech by Prime Minister Mark Rutte at a trade dinner, Guangzhou, China

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a great pleasure to speak to you here today. An audience of hundreds of Chinese and Dutch business people who are keen to work together. And it’s a fitting venue, too. Because the most dazzling example of Chinese-Dutch partnership is here, in the city of Guangzhou. At 600 metres, the Canton Tower is one of the highest buildings in China. It features restaurants, cinemas, shops, and metro and bus stations. Anyone who hasn’t seen the tower – which I’m told is a ‘hyperboloid’ – should go and take a look. Because its design is revolutionary.

It’s a design that goes back fifteen years to a kitchen table in the Netherlands. That was where architects Barbara Kuit and Mark Hemel put together a complex model of the tower using rubber bands. It won them the design competition. How very fitting that Mark’s family name means ‘sky’ in Dutch. They were clearly reaching for the stars when designing this tower!

It makes sense that this dynamic Dutch design was received here with open arms. Because Guangzhou’s 14 universities make the city a breeding ground for knowledge, talent and innovation. Last year GDP in this region grew by a staggering seven per cent. Largely thanks to investment in science and technology.

We’re here today as a delegation of five Dutch ministers and representatives of 165 businesses in sectors like logistics, agri-food, life sciences & health, and smart mobility. That says a lot about the opportunities we see in this region. But Guangzhou was also the obvious choice. We’re in China to do business, so this is the place to be.

'Connectivity is the theme of this trade mission, and it’s part of my country’s DNA. As a small coastal nation we simply can’t afford to shut ourselves off from the outside world.'

Connectivity is the theme of this trade mission, and it’s part of my country’s DNA. As a small coastal nation we simply can’t afford to shut ourselves off from the outside world. We’ve always been outward looking. The first Dutch ships reached China back in the seventeenth century, and we’ve been enjoying mutual trade, knowledge exchange and partnerships ever since.

Our economic ties have grown considerably over the centuries. The Netherlands is one of China’s top-three trading partners in Europe, and China is the Netherlands’ second-biggest trade partner outside Europe. The figures speak for themselves: trade in goods has grown from 2.6 billion euros in 1996 to around 45 billion in 2017.

If we want to build on that foundation and achieve greater prosperity and well-being for our citizens, we have to stay connected. So we welcome the fact that the Belt and Road Initiative is connecting China with the rest of the world. It represents big opportunities for China, Europe and the Netherlands. As I said yesterday at the Boao Forum: open trade benefits us all – as long as it’s free and fair. So a level playing field is crucial.
Dutch companies want to partner with you in the Belt and Road Initiative. The first direct rail freight link between the Netherlands and China started up recently. An initiative directly linked to the Netherlands’ position as ‘gateway to Europe’. The ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, Amsterdam Airport and our high-speed road, rail and broadband networks make us a key logistics hub, connecting global markets. Add to that a pro-business climate, an innovative and creative mindset, a competitive tax structure and a multilingual workforce, and it’s no coincidence that so many companies want to do business with the Netherlands.

That innovative mindset is something I believe the Chinese and the Dutch share. It’s reflected not only in architecture, but in all the pioneering innovations that have resulted from Chinese-Dutch partnerships. Innovations that provide solutions for the big social issues and challenges of our time. Challenges that both our countries face. How do we tackle climate change? How do we make sure that the world’s growing population has enough to eat? How can we keep an ageing population healthy?

Take the partnership between the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research  and the Guangdong Department of Science and Technology, which carries out top-quality research into the development of new drugs to treat conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
Or take FrieslandCampina, Wageningen University and China Agricultural University, which have jointly set up the Sino-Dutch Dairy Development Center to improve production, safety, quality and sustainability in the Chinese dairy sector.

Ladies and gentlemen, I could spend the rest of this dinner telling you about partnerships that already exist. But we’re here to start something new! So I hope that this evening will inspire productive talks, new partnerships and pioneering ideas. May the dazzling Canton Tower be a symbol of the potential that’s unleashed when you match Dutch creativity with Chinese innovative skills. Something that starts with a few simple rubber bands can end up stretching 600 metres into the sky. Let’s keep reaching for the stars together!

Thank you.