Speech of Annette Nijs, Former Dutch Cabinet Minister for Education, Culture and Science

 Speech Annette Nijs, 

Global Vice Chairman Asia Pacific CEO Association, Founder The China Agenda, Chair of Business School Netherlands, Former Dutch Cabinet Minister for Education, Culture and Science


8th June 2020


Our world is changing. Whereas Great Britain ruled the waves in the 19th century, the US dominated the 20th century. And this 21st century? One thing is clear: China’s role becomes more and more important. 

For us in Europe, it was relatively easy when the US took over from Great Britain. After all, we have more or less the same culture. This time it is different: China's culture is very different from ours. For us, China is hard to understand. And the size, the scale of China is overwhelming.  We need some time to come to terms with the fast-rising role of China on the global stage. 

And there is yet another race. We are moving into the 4th Industrial Revolution. A time of fusion of technologies: smart homes, smart factories, smart cities, smart healthcare. 

We all - US, Europe and China and may be others too - want to be the frontrunners of new innovation. We all want to be at the forefront of the new technology frontiers. 

Will it be possible for all of us to be winners? Especially in the current world full of tensions - as we can read every day in the media? 

In my view the answer is YES. It is our CHOICE, Or even better: It is our DUTY to make it a YES. I personally do believe that if we are willing to move forward together we all can be winners. 

To be against international co-operation is to be against the essence of the current technology developments, which integrate 'everything with everything' and 'everything with everyone everywhere'. 

Advancement needs international co-operation. Only if you put your own technology in a basket and invite others to do the same, it is possible to jointly develop breakthrough applications that make 1 + 1 more than 2. This way we can make 1 + 1 = 3 or even more. 

In the US and unfortunately also in Europe, hesitation in sharing technology with Chinese partners is growing. 

Still, we need international co-operation. A co-operation, which is organised in such a way that there is no doubt that all parties involved see themselves as winners. This means building an international coalition of the willing, where technology is shared by consent in a safe and trusted ecosystem. 

This is also true for the health industry, the topic of today’s forum: The Global Health Industry Co-operation Conference.

I welcome and applaud the initiative of Zhejiang Province to set up the Global Health Industry Cooperation System. It will boost the further development of the Greater Bay Area as well as that of overseas health care science parks and companies.  

And, of course  congratulations to the Asia-Pacific CEO Association for their energy in building this bridge between Zhejiang Province and the rest of the world. 

The efforts of many countries to contain the spread of COVID-19 have shown - more than ever before-  that international co-operation in the health sector is a must to protect the health and lives of people across the globe. I myself - and I presume all of you here present today-  agree with the WHO that ‘global health is an issue of international co-operation’. China has shown by example that it is prepared to support all countries in Asia, Europe, Africa and the Americas in their fight against corona.  This approach of COVID-19 deserves extension to other parts of the health sector.  International co-operation in the bio-pharmaceutical industry, the manufacturing of medical equipment, biomedical engineering, health management services and medical big data is of equal importance to guarantee a healthier and better life for people across the globe. 

The timing of this conference therefore is extremely well chosen. 

Today’s conference is the first pillar of the Global Health Industry Cooperation System. I trust that many of us present today will play a role in making a success of the other two pillars: the International Health Industry – Technological Co-operation Center and the International Health Industry – Investment Fund.

At the moment, there is strong appetite for health-care innovation between Chinese and foreign companies. Many foreign multinationals have good experiences in China, that is why Merck for instance has opened up its new health care innovation hub in Shanghai. Pfizer, MSD and Abbott already touched ground here in Zhejiang province. Chinese investors including your local hero Alibaba, have helped many life sciences start-ups in Silicon valley and beyond.

To me this strong appetite for health care innovation between China and foreign companies will be the driver behind the future success of the Global Health Industry Cooperation System. 

Allow me in the interest of time to zoom in on how to attract foreign health care start-ups – leaving the multinationals aside for the moment. 

Many countries have set a target to nurture a certain number of unicorns, start-ups with an estimated market value of $1bn or more. In my own country The Netherlands, we have the ambition to double the number of unicorns, from 2 to 4 per year.

I strongly belief that the International Health Industry – Investment Fund could become a magnet for foreign start-ups. Why?  

Challenge number 1 of many foreign start-ups is capital.  Only with sufficient capital start-ups can grow faster and bigger. For many Dutch start-ups capital is still an issue.

I strongly belief that also the International Health Industry – Technological Cooperation Center could become a magnet for foreign start-ups. Why?  

Challenge number 2 of many foreign start-ups is to grow and to scale up. Often their local market is too small. In the Netherlands we are used to bring our start-ups to the US, Germany and Scandinavia to scale up. But to me, it makes perfect sense to bring start-ups to China. After all China is one of the largest and most innovate markets in the world.

However, this is not as natural a step as you may think. Why not? Because of the rise of concerns about technology transfer to China. Many governments and start-ups want the guarantee that the technology remains in the hands of the founders. They want to become Dutch unicorns, not Chinese unicorns. Or French unicorns and not Chinese unicorns.

May I propose the following? 

All over the world, start-ups pitch their plans to become a unicorn. The Global Health Industry Cooperation System can organise  a series of regional unicorn challenges for health care start-ups. Maybe an European Unicorn Challenge or an African Unicorn challenge. The start-ups pitch their plan to become a unicorn. 

A joint Advisory Board of the Technological Co-operation Center and the Investment Fund select the winning start-ups, which they reward with the opportunity to scale up in the large China market. 

Apart from funding from the Investment Fund and a 12-16 months residence in the Technological Cooperation Center, protection of intellectual property, access to industrial engineers and a manufacturing ecosystem needs to be guaranteed. These conditions make sure the technology transfer takes place in a safe and trusted ecosystem. Transfer of technology is with explicit consent.

So, why not organise a Sino Europe Unicorn Challenge for life sciences and present the awards in one of the european top Tech Cities: London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Paris, Berlin, Dublin or Barcelona?

The Global Health Industry Cooperation System can play an important role to advance the lives of people across the world through breakthrough health care technologies. 

The world, the people deserve it.

Thank you.

I wish you a good conference.

© 2020 APCEO