Tuesday, January 18, 2011, 00:00

Harnessing youth power for Sino-EU relations

By By Miao Xiaojuan and Laura Douxfils

Harnessing youth power for Sino-EU relations

Twenty-nine-year-old teaching assistant at the University of Vienna, Barbara Rieger, is all set for her internship in Shanghai in February. And helping her prepare for her maiden trip to the mega city is Shanghai's Wang Xi, whom she met in Brussels.

Rieger met Wang, also 29, at the opening of the 2011 EU-China Year of Youth, on Jan 11.

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, that will bring together 200 young representatives like Rieger and Wang to meet and exchange ideas on a variety of issues including volunteering, culture and creativity.

The program aims to strengthen youth understanding and friendship as well as encourage young people to support the development of EU-China ties.

"To some extent, this year is just a beginning. We are planting seeds … of future cooperation," says Giuseppe Porcaro, secretary-general of the European Youth Forum, which represents about 100 youth councils and organizations across Europe.

"The program focused on youth is super strategic for EU-China relations in the future," Porcaro says.

Michal Onderco, a volunteer in the Youth Council of Slovakia, joined the event in the hope of building networks with Chinese youth organizations.

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

However, Porcaro stressed that the results would not come by the end of the year. "The seeds need some time to grow. We will probably see the results in 10 or 20 years, when all these people become leaders in their respective fields," he says.

"We will (then) have a generation of leaders who have known each other since they were young so the partnership and friendship will be much more solid," Porcaro says.

The European External Action Service, a new EU diplomatic service, plans to initiate student and volunteer exchanges between hundreds of European and Chinese schools, according to Asad Beg, co-desk officer for China at the European Commission.

"We have also been discussing ideas like flash mobs, where young people from both sides can come together and maybe have a pillow fight or a disco," Beg adds.

Addressing the opening ceremony, Ambassador Song Zhe, head of the Mission of China to the European Union, stressed that young people could help invigorate and extend the boundary of China-EU relations.

With the official website, www.2011youth.net, being launched, Wu Wei, a high-level official with the All-China Youth Federation, encouraged young Internet surfers to have as many interactions as they could.

"A lot more youth from Europe and China can make friends in the virtual world," Wu says.

Meanwhile, Rieger's best Chinese friend Wang Xi will soon travel to Germany for an internship project and hopefully visit Rieger in Vienna.