Minister Lu Wei,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a real pleasure to join you for the opening ceremony of Experience China 2017 here in London. I would like to begin by extending my warm welcome to all my British and Chinese friends who are with us tonight.
Experience China is a cultural gala of a variety of artistic performances. It is widely recognized and highly reputed for exhibiting the Chinese arts and advancing cultural exchange between China and other nations.
This year's event focuses on exploring the cultural heritage of west China in the forms of folk singing and dancing, photo exhibition, films and book show. The colorful composition of the event will bring the vast west of China to the door steps of Britain. It will allow the British audience to enjoy the natural beauty, historical sites and places of interest in west China and to learn and experience China from a close range.
Being no stranger to west China, I have worked in Gansu Province for a couple of years. Since then, I have always kept an eye on the development of China's western region. I have to say I am more than amazed by the level of growth and scale of change that have taken place over there all these years.
The western region has been a late-mover in terms of economic development compared with the more advanced east coast. In recent years, this has been turned into an advantage, enabling west China to achieve fast growth. Major development indicators of the western region have been higher than the national average.
From 2013 to 2016, the GDP of the western provinces and regions grew by 9.1% annually. That was close to two percentage points higher than the national average. The economic structure has been optimized. Strategic emerging industries, including new energy vehicles, IT and big data, are fast developing.
The western region of China is regarded as a fount of culture thanks to its unique and rich variety of ethnic cultural heritage. Recent years have witnessed fast development of cultural and creative industry in west China, overtaking that of the eastern region in 2016 in both output and revenue.
After years of efforts, China's west has achieved leapfrog progress in economic, social and cultural development. It is now taking on a brand new look.
China is a vast country. There is a huge difference between the eastern and western parts of China. British friends who have been to the more advanced coastal regions in the east might not know a lot about China's west. So I think Experience China 2017 could not have come to Britain at a better time. Its tour in Britain, including London, Edinburgh and Manchester, is significant in three aspects.
First, to experience the culture of west China is a part of the efforts to advance China-UK "Golden Era".
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Ambassadorial diplomatic ties between China and Britain. It is also a year for consolidating China-UK "Golden Era". Since the beginning of this year, our two countries have had close high-level exchanges and achieved fruitful outcomes in business, financial and energy cooperation and in culture and people-to-people exchange. We need this "Golden Era" to deliver win-win "golden fruits".
Moreover, this "Golden Era" is not short of "golden programmes." Over the years, China and Britain successfully held the "Year of Cultural Exchange", jointly marked the 400th anniversary of the passing of Tang Xianzu and William Shakespeare, and co-hosted a number of cultural activities under the theme of "Spirit of Youth". These events have demonstrated the huge potential of cultural exchange between our two countries.
West China is home to diverse ethnic cultures. There are world-renowned, classic cultural icons, such as the Terracotta army of Qin Dynasty, the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang and Xishuangbanna in Yunnan Province. There are booming cultural exchange events, including the Western China Art Festival, the Western China International Fair and Silk Road International Film Festival. These are helping to increase the global visibility of China's western region.
There is every reason for China's west to become a highlight of cultural and people-to-people exchange between China and the UK. We can work together in specific areas such as tourism, TV and films, press, publication, archaeology, etc. And in this process, we can explore and develop the rich cultural resources of west China, and produce more "golden programmes" in the "Golden Era".
Second, to experience the culture of west China helps form stronger people-to-people bond and enhance mutual understanding as we cooperate on the Belt and Road Initiative.
West China was the starting point of the ancient Silk Road. In China's Han Dynasty in roughly 140 BC, Zhang Qian and his team of trail blazers set off from Xi'an on a peaceful mission. His journey to the west opened up trade routes later known as the Silk Road.
Today, China's western region is actively engaged in a wide range of cultural exchanges and interactions under the Belt and Road Initiative. In September 2016, the first Silk Road International Cultural Expo was held in Dunhuang. It attracted visitors from China and abroad by showing the unique ethnic cultures of China's west. Not long ago, an exhibition of artworks from Dunhuang's Buddhist cave temples took place here in London. The exhibition, housed in the Prince's School of Traditional Arts, opened a window on the sacred art of the Silk Road.
Britain is China's key partner in building the Belt and Road. When it comes to culture, Britain has unmatched advantages and abundant resources. These include education, language, academic studies, media and others. Experience China 2017 could give the British public a new perspective on China's culture and history. This will increase mutual understanding and cement the public support for China-UK cooperation on the Belt and Road.
Third, to experience the culture of west China contributes to the broad exchange and mutual learning between the Eastern and Western civilizations.
The cultural heritage of west China is an important part of the Chinese civilization. Historically, west China is where the civilizations of the east and the west met.
China and Britain are both great nations of profound culture and history. We are important representatives of the eastern and western civilizations.
There is never a superior civilization. There is never a better civilization. There are only different civilizations with their respective and unique cultural and geographical features. And there have to be mutual respect, mutual learning and mutual accommodation between different civilizations. And this alone will enable common progress for all.
Experience China 2017 is such an event to enhance cultural exchange and cooperation between China and Britain.
Our two countries are in a good position to set up a "golden example" of mutual respect and mutual learning between the East and the West. By working hand in hand, we are able to make the world a place of greater diversity, and we will be able to contribute to the common progress of all civilizations on our planet.
In the following days, a delegation of tibetologists will visit Britain for academic exchanges and interactions. Such exchanges will increase understanding of China's west, especially the Tibet Autonomous Region.
It is also my hope that more British friends will one day visit China's west. It is absolutely rewarding to foot on the land, to see with your own eyes, and to experience the Chinese culture steeped in history and traditions and shaped by the rapid changes of our times.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We Chinese people often say:
"That things are born to be different is nature."
In the west, people often say:
"No two leaves are ever exactly alike."
Civilizations are richer and more colorful as a result of exchanges and mutual learning.
Less than two weeks ago, President Xi Jinping and Prime Minister Theresa May held a successful meeting at the G20 Hamburg Summit. The two leaders reaffirmed the shared commitment to building the China-UK "Golden Era". They agreed to further strengthen non-governmental and youth exchanges based on the achievements over the past five years under the China-UK High Level People-to-People Exchange Mechanism.
We look forward to working with British friends from all sectors for closer exchange and collaboration, and for deeper understanding and trust. I am confident that through our concerted efforts, we can advance the mutual learning between the Eastern and Western civilizations. Through our concerted efforts, China-UK relations will bear more "golden fruits" in the "Golden Era".
In conclusion, I wish Experience China 2017 in the UK a complete success!