By Martin Banks - 3rd February 2012
Intercultural dialogue is not an easy process
EU culture commissioner Androulla Vassiliou has urged the EU and China to look at each other with "new eyes".
Launching the 2012 EU-China year of intercultural dialogue, she said, "For most of the past 5000 years, the relations between the EU and China have seen moments of authentic reciprocal fascination.
"There have also been long periods of mutual semi-ignorance. I believe it is time we look at each other with new eyes, free from prejudice and ready to learn from each other."
The year will see a large number of events and projects hosted by member states and China.
Vassiliou, commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth, said the aim was to "strengthen intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding through cultural exchanges and people-to-people contacts."
Speaking at the launch in Brussels, she said, "The EU and China are more to each other than the sum of their respective interests.
"They stand together as two ancient cultures and two rich traditions, who know they can learn one from the other.
"Both know that the ability and willingness to engage in a mutual learning process are among the keys to respond to the global challenges they both face."
She added, "Intercultural dialogue is not an easy process.
"Above all, it requires a conscious and sustained effort to go beyond the appearances, to rid oneself of prejudice and preconceived ideas, and to appreciate the wonderfully diverse ways in which different cultures have learnt to manifest what are, essentially, the same human emotions."
The official opening ceremony took place at the centre for fine arts in Brussels and a conference launching the year was held later, focusing on prospects for strengthening EU-China cooperation.
Other speakers included Uffe Elbæk, the Danish minister of culture, representing the EU presidency, Italian MEP Crescenzio Rivellini, who heads parliament's delegation for relations with China and Cai Wu, the Chinese minister of culture.
European and Chinese speakers highlighted a variety of projects supported by the European commission to promote mutual understanding between the EU and China.
Events and actions which contribute to one or more of the objectives of the EU-China year will be able to apply for a label showing that they have signed up to its targets.
To be eligible for the label and part of the official calendar of the year, the events must take place between 1 February and 30 November, and involve partners or participants from two or more EU member states.
The labelled activities will cover all cultural sectors, as well as other fields which contribute to mutual understanding and civil society exchanges, in particular education, research, multilingualism and youth.
Though no specific funding has been foreseen for the year, some projects can be supported through the EU's media Mundus cinema programme or through the EU-China trade project.