ROME : The European Union (EU) and China must continue to cooperate in the fields of science, research and innovation in order to tackle global issues such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, experts from industries and institutions agreed during an online panel discussion held on Wednesday.
The panel discussion, which was supported in Italy by the Italy-China Chamber of Commerce, a member of the EU-China Business Association, focused on the importance of scientific and research cooperation between the EU and China, and how this can support economic recovery in the wake of the pandemic.
“The cooperation dialogue process that is taking place between China and the EU will govern the future relationships between China and the EU in the areas of science and research,” said panel moderator Gwenn Sonck, executive director of the EU-China Business Association.
In the first seven months of 2020, China surpassed the United States to become the biggest trading partner of the European Union (EU), according to Eurostat, the EU’s statistical office.
The growth led by exports from Europe to China “is a key policy instrument that will assist Europe to recover from the economic challenges that it faces at this time,” Sonck said.
Abraham Liu, Huawei’s chief representative to the EU Institutions, also noted in the discussion that the Chinese tech giant has “23 research centers across 12 countries” in Europe, including Italy, and it has been in Europe for 20 years.
“We actively contribute to the positive development of the European economy, (and) new and innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) are modernizing the EU industry,” said Liu.
“Europeans by nature are excellent software developers and that is why Huawei’s microwave research center is in Milan, our wireless research center is in Stockholm, our open innovation center is in Paris and our optical network research center is in Munich,” Liu said.
He added that “over the next five years, Huawei plans to invest 100 million euros in our AI ecosystem program in Europe.”
“Open and transparent procedures are important with regard to the global research programs because it is the most effective way to secure the strongest and the most innovative results to tackle the problems that society faces, such as climate change and the pandemic,” said Liu.
As for Bekaert, a Belgian company that specializes in steel wire transformation and coating technologies, its Vice-President for research and development (R&D) and innovation, Veerle Van Wassenhove, said: “for us it has proven essential to cooperate closely with the China team.”
Bekaert opened its first plant in China in 1993, said Yu Zhigao, senior vice president of Technology Rubber Reinforcement at Bekaert.
He added that currently, Bekaert has “220 people in the R&D department and close to 250 people in its engineering department” in China.
Van Wassenhove added that “We are grateful as Bekaert that we were able and the China team was able to have no COVID cases and recover our operations within a matter of weeks.”
“We saw during these COVID times that it was essential to be able, as a global organization, to stand on…the capabilities of China,” Van Wassenhove explained.
In addition, MEP Frances Fitzgerald, a member of the “Delegation for relations with the People’s Republic of China” at the European Parliament, said that “the lenses through which everything is being viewed at present” are COVID-19, climate change, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), digital transformation and green technologies.
“These lenses determine so much and they are interconnected — the key point about them is that they are global,” said Fitzgerald. She added that science, research, and best thinking in innovation are about “bringing the best talents of the world together” and this requires cooperation.
“We see extraordinary progress in China in terms of innovation, in engineering, in so many areas,” said Fitzgerald. “It is definitely to our mutual benefit if we can work closely together.”
Taking the search for the COVID-19 vaccine as an example, Fitzgerald said: “obviously each continent will make its own progress, but global cooperation offers us the best opportunity” to find a vaccine.
“There is a clear need for global cooperation,” she stressed, adding that the business, science, research, and innovation sectors can have a positive “bottom-up” effect in the geopolitical arena.
“What you don’t want to see are barriers to that upward movement from business, science, research, innovation,” Fitzgerald added.