It is indeed a great honour and privilege to open this important meeting. During the past 12 years the Boao Forum has established an outstanding reputation and track-record as the leading economic forum for Asia. I do look forward to our discussions.
The world today is truly united by challenges, decisions and opportunities. Challenges are common to us all whether it is the economy, environment or security. Decisions taken by nation states or regional entities have profound impacts on others. At the same time globalisation provides opportunities never experienced before.
Europe and Asia are no longer distant or foreign continents, but close and valuable partners. Our economies are deeply integrated. Just look at the trade between China and the European Union. In just over twenty years it has become one of the most prominent trading relationships in the world – over one trillion euro`s worth of exchanges each and every day.
And trade in goods is just one dimension of the close economic relationship between Asia and Europe. We are strongly bound together by investment, services and ideas. The conclusion is crystal clear – it is impossible to imagine European and Asian economies without each other.
* * *
Europe is making big headlines in the international press, but usually with the word crisis added to it. These past years have been very difficult for Europe and the euro-area.
I do not want to embellish the situation. One fundamental reason for the hardship in Europe has been a lax attitude to financial policies. Many countries allowed great imbalances to grow, both by taking too much debt and making unsustainable economic choices. As a result our economic foundation has weakened and competitiveness waned.
The European Union has been able to agree on far-reaching reforms. It seems now that stronger economic discipline is taking hold. Firm banking supervision is being built. Crisis-stricken economies have also engaged in structural reform. Many economic indicators show that the situation is indeed improving. It takes time for economies to turn for the better, but the turn is taking place.
It is equally evident that with 7 percent of the world population, 25 percent of global GDP and 50 percent of its social spending, Europeans have to work very hard to maintain our way of life.
If Europe has its weaknesses, it also has great strengths. The European Union is the world’s biggest single market. European companies are great innovators. European countries have the highest ratings in terms of education, public institutions, transparency and lowest marks in corruption. These are qualities that matter more and more for the economy as innovation has become the prominent driver of economic growth.
* * *
We all need to remember our history. Europe used to be a leading power, but we recognise that the world has changed. We have witnessed strong economic development in the world at large and the emergence of new powers. This is a global world that should be seen as a relationship between equals.
At this meeting we have a good opportunity to take steps towards a common vision for economic development and stability, a true partnership for prosperity.