Official speeches and statements - July 2, 2018
1. Bilateral relationship - China - Speech by Mr. Edouard Philippe, Prime Minister, at Tsinghua University (excerpts) (Beijing - June 24, 2018)
I’d like to share with you three very strong convictions which I think can form the basis of an interesting approach for you, as Chinese students, and for us French.
Firstly, I think knowledge, the knowledge-based economy is the big issue of our time, and in saying this I’m telling only half the truth. Half, because the truth is that knowledge has always been the big issue, in every era. (...)
Today, in the world in which we live, the desire to understand, to know, is becoming a necessity perhaps more than ever before, because the knowledge-based economy is a mark of power, because it guarantees sovereignty and because in a way it is the only means for us—whichever state we live in, whatever convictions we share or don’t share—, it’s the only means of taking up the challenges ahead of us.
The challenges of our time which, if we didn’t take them up, would call into question what we are. The challenge of climate transformation, the challenge of a shared, peaceful life on an earth with finite resources, which is destined to be home to nine, 10 billion human beings.
All countries which allow the largest possible proportion of people to rise as high as possible thanks to knowledge will serve both their interests and the interest of mankind as a whole.
My first conviction is this great challenge of our time. My second is that France has a part to play, a role to play in the way we might respond to this collective challenge.
Knowing a bit about China, coming here virtually every year for the past 15 years now, I know that my country is sometimes portrayed here as the country of romance, fine wines, great cuisine and wonderful châteaux. And all that is true, but France isn’t only that, and it’s far from being that alone.
France—and this is reminiscent of China’s key elements—is a country which, when it carried out its revolution at the end of the 18th century, intended to place political power and social life under the empire of reason—not the law of the strongest, not a kind of tyranny, but under the empire of reason.
Of the institutions created at the time of the French Revolution, some of the most prestigious are devoted to science, learning, teaching and research. The France of today is a key player in civilian nuclear energy, aviation and aerospace. It’s a key player in biotechnology, artificial intelligence, in every field where all industries, all countries try to go beyond the mass of knowledge and more effectively link up their knowledge so they can produce new services and new technology and make new progress for mankind.
In all these fields, France is present, active and at the cutting edge.
FRANCE / HIGHER EDUCATION
Three hundred thousand foreign students are currently enrolled and studying in France. I believe this makes France fourth out of the world’s nations for the number of higher-education students it hosts.
In the delegation accompanying me, to which I warmly pay tribute, are presidents of prestigious research institutes: the CNRS [French National Centre for Scientific Research], INSERM [French National Institute of Health and Medical Research], institutes which, through the way they operate, their scale and area of research, through the very special, productive link they succeed in forging with universities, with industry, with the world of fundamental research, manage to shine and allow France to pride itself on an outstanding track record, with 57 Nobel prizewinners and 11 Fields medallists since the creation of those prizes.
Also in my delegation are young leaders, young creatives, young start-up innovators, because too often in France we present the world of innovation and the world of technological research as one reserved for the very big research institutes and very big companies.
The truth is quite the opposite; in the research ecosystems, small, incredibly innovative companies are able to make absolutely exceptional breakthroughs and take steps forward which can then be taken up either by large companies or large laboratories.
R&D / INVESTMENT
It’s in France—Paris, to be more precise—that the largest start-up incubator in the world, Station F, has been set up. It’s in France that we’ve established an extremely ambitious tax system, the crédit impôt recherche [R&D tax credit], to ensure that the state supports the research effort—fundamental and applied research—being promoted by a whole series of companies. And it’s in France that Mounir Mahjoubi, Minister of State for the Digital Sector, and I are putting in place special funding devoted to Deep Tech, to ensure that research can, once again, produce applications at the service of mankind and our fellow citizens.
This often unrecognized but very real focus of the French economy on innovation and research explains, among other things, the huge attraction France has for investment from other nations. Last year, in 2017, foreign investment in France went up 31% compared to what it was the previous year. Just recently, groups you know—Facebook, Google, Fujitsu—decided to set up artificial-intelligence research centres in Paris and France.
Why? Because for very many years—and many more to come—, France has been home to and developed an exceptional mathematical school, which is incredibly productive, and this means we have valuable assets in our country to allow the boldest advances to be made in artificial intelligence.
But there would be something inappropriate about coming to Tsinghua University and saying, “ladies and gentlemen, everything’s going very well, nothing is better than France when it comes to research, innovation and science. This would obviously ignore the most basic politeness, but above all, reality.
The reality is also that in all these areas, in order to make progress nothing is more effective than partnerships and working collectively. And I’d like to mention a few areas in which China and France are working hand in hand to improve performance, increase knowledge and ensure we can make progress.
NUCLEAR ENERGY / AVIATION
As I’ve said, this applies to civilian nuclear energy. Nuclear cooperation between France and China goes back a long way. It has served as a model, it has been bold and it continues to the present day with construction projects in China which are a collaborative effort between major industrial groups and the major French electricity company, EDF. It continues abroad, with joint investment in the United Kingdom in civilian nuclear energy, carried out by Chinese and French companies. Added to this are cooperation projects to implement the “closed cycle" system of civilian nuclear energy, with plants for reprocessing spent fuel.
In the same way, as regards aviation, France and China carry out exchanges, trade of course, but also discuss the best way of improving our products, to ensure we can move tomorrow to the aircraft of the future which consumes less, makes less noise, pollutes less and allows us to continue, in much better conditions, to benefit from the effects of openness in exchanges as regards people, tourism, travel and bringing populations together.
Third area in which our research cooperation must be exemplary: environmental protection, with our shared desire, in the framework of a Global Pact for the Environment, to implement the Paris Agreement and make sure we can move towards a low-carbon economy.
Getting under way in July will be the France-China Year of the Environment, which reflects our shared determination, our common interests, our shared desire not to listen to those who think that the environment issue and the climate issue are somehow false issues, but embrace what’s going to transform our world.
My third conviction is that only an open world based on the law can guarantee a genuine knowledge-based economy. If we want to build a fair, stable future, we—France and China—must speak the same language, if not the same tongue, and comply with the same economic and political rules. We believe in the legitimacy and wisdom of international standards.
These standards must of course be updated, developed in terms of the new challenges posed by digital technology, the protection of personal data and the climate revolution or transformation. They must be defined in a multilateral framework whose power and stability is known, because, precisely, it doesn’t depend on the goodwill of one country or another; it doesn’t depend on a relationship of power, which is always temporary. At a time when this multilateral framework should be imposing itself, we’re experiencing its weaknesses today. In the face of threats and stances which are too centred on national interests, China, France, Europe of course must set an example by adhering to, activating and modernizing this multilateral framework.
This of course requires international regulation. In the area of digital technology, we sense the need for it to protect personal data and private lives and impose fair taxation on major groups that know how to exploit administrative borders, in order to create the conditions for fair competition by preventing abuses of a dominant position.
There’s no prosperity or sustainable development without ground rules. What applies to the Internet also applies to international trade. Without fair rules worldwide, the battle is unequal and therefore unfair.
So a historic task falls to us, because international trade occasionally arouses protectionist instincts or a sense of withdrawal into one’s own community. We must reorient multilateralism in favour of the Asian and African powers, of course. It’s a huge challenge, but it’s up to you, it’s up to all of us together to take it up, otherwise borders will close and the knowledge-based economy will suffer as a result.