Representatives celebrate the arrival of the first Wuhan-Lyon cargo train in Lyon, France, in April 2016 (XINHUA)
To learn more about Wuhan's opening up and opportunities as well as its relationship with France, Beijing Review reporter Liu Ting interviewed Olivier Guyonvarch, Consul General of France in Wuhan, on July 25. An edited excerpt follows:
Beijing Review: How was the Consulate General of France in Wuhan established?
Olivier Guyonvarch: We decided to set up this consulate because there were substantial French investments in the car industry, especially by Citroën, which had invested and built factories in Wuhan in 1992. Subsequently, many auto parts manufacturers settled around the city, making Wuhan a very important base for French investments. The second reason is that university cooperation between France and Wuhan has always been vibrant, especially with Wuhan University. And finally, back then, Wuhan was a booming economic powerhouse, growing on average at a faster pace than the whole of China, so the French Government found it relevant to establish its consulate general here in 1998.
What are the advantages and characteristics of Wuhan compared to other major Chinese cities?
Wuhan is the cradle of the Chinese metallurgical industry. Zhang Zhidong established China's first steel industries in Wuhan during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Wuhan is also a communication hub, with the Yangtze River, a comprehensive railway network and an international airport with destinations worldwide, including direct flights to Paris. Both the provincial and municipal governments have preferential policies to accommodate foreign investments. In addition, Wuhan is home to the world's largest university campus. The pool of human resources is plentiful and talented, and companies can recruit engineers, technicians and workers locally.
You have returned to Wuhan after being away for many years. What changes have impressed you most?
I found the city much cleaner, more pleasant and easier to live in. Twenty years ago, there were no subways, whereas today, there are many lines. When I left Wuhan 20 years ago, there were only two bridges, while today a dozen bridges span the river. East Lake has been revamped and there are greenways now. The only thing that has not changed in Wuhan is the welcoming nature of its residents.
Visitors interact with a French exhibitor at the China 2019 World Stamp Exhibition in Wuhan on June 11 (XINHUA)
How do you promote cooperation and economic exchanges between China and France in Wuhan?
Strengthening the ties between Wuhan and Hubei and France is what we do on a daily basis. As far as business is concerned, we play an advisory role. We are not involved in economic cooperation; companies and investors do their part on their own. However, in the cultural field, we do a lot with the Festival Croisements for example; and every year for two months, we organize a slew of cultural events including musical shows, painting and photo exhibitions and street art performances, among others. We have encouraged art exchanges between the Yellow Crane Tower Art Troupe and the Chamarande Festival in France's Essonne. We are also involved in academic cooperation with Campus France—an organization that promotes overseas studies—and provide information and aid to students to enroll in French universities.
Scientific cooperation is also substantial, especially in the field of medicine, since Wuhan hosts one of the four French-language medical schools in China. Some students from Wuhan University's School of Medicine choose French as a foreign language and serve their internships in Nancy, France. We also try to promote tourism to France and our visa services do a great job. We encourage Chinese tourists to not only visit Paris, but also take an interest in other regions in France.
What successful areas of cooperation between China and France in Wuhan could serve as a model for other countries or cities?
The Franco-Chinese sustainable city project in Caidian District could be a model for other cities in China and around the world because the global urban population continues to increase and by 2040, roughly 75 percent of the world's population will live in cities. So this is a project that is very important to us.
Olivier Guyonvarch, Consul General of France in Wuhan (ZHANG WEI)
How is this project developing?
There are already a dozen French companies onboard in the fields of urban planning, cold chain management, heating and power generation, as well as in the environmental protection of lakes. Currently, we are really starting to do hands-on work. It's a long-term project, and a rather complex one. Our job is to publicize it throughout the French business community involved in the field of sustainable development and to encourage French companies to take an interest in Wuhan.
What about the China-Europe Railway Express?
During a visit to Wuhan in 2017, then French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve greeted the arrival of a container train from Lyon loaded with French wine. In addition, a bonded warehouse for wine was recently established.
What can be done to further promote economic and trade cooperation between our two countries?
We encourage French companies to come to Wuhan and [other parts of] Hubei. We have organized a number of business tours and invited French companies that specialize in specific areas. We introduce them to local authorities and departments, and we organize meetings with local companies, hoping that these meetings will eventually result in exchanges and cooperation. We play the role of an intermediary. We can also do market studies and analysis whenever companies or investors require such work through our economic services.
(Reporting from Wuhan,Hubei Province)
Copyedited by Rebeca Toledo
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