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This is the sixth issue of “Global Dialogue”. Our exclusive interview is with Erik Solheim, former UN Deputy Secretary-General and former Norwegian Minister of the Environment. As a senior national politician who knows China well, Solheim Haim’s insight into CEIBS has always been to go beyond the current ups and downs and look at the entire big cycle.
We believe that the content of the interview is more in line with the current theme of the recovery of China-EU relations. The design of the interview questions does not discuss too many sharp contradictions, but seeks consensus from a broad perspective. This is the main theme of the entire interview. In addition, we also hope that high-level dialogues can convey the rational and objective voices of more Western politicians.
For this interview, Xinfu Consulting specially invited Mr. Frank Schvalba-Hoth, the founder of the German Green Party and former member of the European Parliament, to conduct an exclusive interview with Mr. Solheim in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Union. At the moment when China-EU relations are tense, we need such a rational voice to help us clear the fog and better see the road ahead.
Frank Schvalba-Holt: We are in Brussels, the capital of the European Union. Now, in the Royal Park, it is located between the Royal Castle and the Belgian Federal Parliament. And just behind us with the two flags is the Promenade, a club of important business people from Flanders. Now we’re going to do an interview with Eric Solheim here.
Frank Schvalba-Holt: Welcome, Eric Solheim. I’m on the balcony of my office in the Eurasia Center. First of all, let me introduce myself. I am one of the founders of the German Green Party and a member of the Green Party in the European Parliament in the last century. In Brussels, most people who work in the environment, in development policy and in Asia know you because you worked in Norway as minister of development or north-south development, minister of the environment and then at the United Nations as UN undersecretary general and UN environment program Department Executive Director. Since you are now working on issues related to Europe and Asia, especially China and India. You are also currently in Brussels, and we will discuss in depth what the future relationship between Europe and China, the EU and China should be. I have prepared six questions, and now I am going to ask you.
Frank Schvalba-Holt: In which direction will the relationship between the EU and China develop? Based on your extensive political experience, how would you define it?
Eric Solheim: You see, the relationship between China and the West is a bilateral relationship of decisive importance for our time. Once we get it right, we can basically solve all the major problems on the planet. If we screw it up, we deepen the divide. We want a strong way around the world to get rid of the impact of COVID in the economic arena, we want jobs for people, we want to deal with climate change and the environment, we want to find a way to deal with future pandemics, we want peace in Ukraine and peace globally , and resolve regional conflicts. If we can forget about the (strained) relationship between the West and China, whatever needs will be easier to achieve, right? The way to do that is to focus on what unites us: economics, ecology, peace, all these issues where we can find common ground, let’s focus on all the areas where we can do together. There will certainly be areas of disagreement between the West and China. We will not agree on a political system. In the United States, we have not adopted the Chinese political system, nor will we in Europe. But China will not adopt our political system either. So we need to work together. If there is a disagreement over Ukraine or Taiwan or human rights or whatever, it has to be a conversation based on respect, but again trying to find common ground because that makes us stronger for each other.
Frank Schvalba-Holt: Chinese companies choose to invest in Europe, especially in Central and Eastern European countries, especially Hungary. Will the Central and Eastern European region become a new landmark for Chinese companies to go overseas in Europe?
Eric Solheim: Of course, we should have a big picture, and we should welcome more Chinese investment in Europe and more European investment in China. Because trade is a major factor in economic development, but also in order to protect the environment. Because if the economy is efficient, we waste less resources, which is good for our environment. So let us welcome the strengthening of economic ties on a large scale. But of course, from a Chinese perspective, Eastern European countries do have some advantages: wages tend to be lower than in Western Europe, while the average person has a high level of knowledge and education. So Chinese companies have reason to want to invest in Eastern Europe. That’s fine, but there is also a need to criticize Western Europe. You know, every green technology in the world now, China is the world leader, last year 82% of all solar panels in the world were made in China, last year 70% of all electric batteries were made in China Yes, in this field of hydropower, green hydrogen solar energy, and green electric vehicles, no matter what the problem is, China is number one. So we Europeans have to work harder if you want to compete with China in the green field.
Frank Schvalba-Holt: Chinese companies and Chinese politics are well aware of 16+1, that is, 16 Central and Eastern European countries, from within the European Union and the Western Balkans and from the former Yugoslavia, and one China. How do you comment on the 16+1 cooperation?
Eric Solheim: I think what we should really strive for is 27 plus 1. So the whole of the EU works with China because there’s a lot we can achieve together. So let’s focus on the areas of mutual achievement, then the world will be a better place.
Frank Schvalba-Holt: What do you see as prospects for closer cooperation between the EU and China amid all these climate change efforts at COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt?
Eric Solheim: The most important thing is of course environmental technology, because if you don’t move quickly into solar energy, wind energy, electric vehicles, circular economy and all these technologies that need to be improved, we will not find a way out of the deep climate crisis. So that’s why private investment in both directions is so important, because that’s how technology is exchanged and technology is improved. Also, we should also discuss best environmental practices, and likewise, we in Europe should not deceive ourselves. Yes, 20 years ago, we were definitely far ahead of China when it came to environmental practices, but now I think China is probably ahead of us, and China is cleaning up rivers and air much faster than we are doing in Europe. Yes, we’ve cleaned up Europe’s Rhine. But China is doing the same thing, but much faster. The air quality in Europe is basically good. China has improved this in just ten years, and ten years ago, Chinese cities were heavily polluted. Now you can see the blue sky in Beijing or Shanghai, and you can breathe a different air. China is carrying out some major environmental projects under the framework of “Beautiful China”, protecting giant pandas, which used to be very dangerous and endangered species; banning fishing in the huge river systems of the vast Yangtze River and Yellow River. Fishing bans are of course painful in the short term, but very, very beneficial in the long run, officials will set policy, the ecosystem will normalize in an important way, there will be efficient and bumper harvests. So exchanging best practices, best ideas, best policies, while improving technology together, is where the European-Chinese partnership on the environment is going.
Frank Schvalba-Holt: In addition to climate issues, in what areas do you think China and the EU can have in-depth cooperation in the future? Is it even possible to rebuild in Ukraine?
Eric Solheim: It is necessary to try to find common ground for all global conflicts, I mean, look at when we have the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. They have caused a lot of conflict, for example in Africa, where one side supports one group and the other side supports another. Some people support people from the north, America supports people from the north of the country, and then Russians will support people from the south, just different tribes, different peoples. It made every war outside of Europe very, very violent, and it all came from this Cold War perspective. Not currently, because in most major conflicts, China, Europe and the US have stable finances, which is much better for the global economy and good people. So in Ukraine, China has now come out very, very strongly and said that Russia is crazy to threaten with nuclear weapons. This is a strong message to the Russians and Mr Putin that while the Chinese will not boycott Russia like the Indians, Brazilians or Africans, there is common ground in the struggle for Ukrainian sovereignty. We need to restore Ukraine as a sovereign state, and then you can find common ground, of course, and then having a peace deal in Ukraine will have a massive need to rebuild Ukraine. It’s going to be a very difficult time because the losses are huge. Of course, the Ukrainian state system is not perfect. In the 30 years before the war, Ukraine lost 300,000 citizens every year. So it was a country in trouble before the war. Of course, this was also exacerbated by the war, and then rebuilding would be difficult, and China, like Europe, has a lot of resources to offer. So let’s take a look at how this can be done.
Frank Schvalba-Holt: How do you evaluate the German Chancellor’s visit to China, what suggestions and expectations do you have for the new leadership in China, and if possible, promote a win-win situation? The cooperation between the two sides, the EU on the one hand, and China on the other?
Eric Solheim: Prime Minister Scholz’s trip to Beijing is brave and should be widely praised. I mean, he faced some criticism from different circles, but it was the right thing to do. Because we need to work together on the environment, Ukraine, any crisis in the world. If the EU and China cooperate well, we can solve these problems. Of course, as Mr. Scholz said, this is a very promising moment, and it also helps different large German companies invest in China, which is good. We need more opportunities like this, China needs access to European technology, but we (Europe) also need access to their (China) technology. Of course, the very good news is that the next step after Scholz’s visit is the summit meeting between President Xi and President Biden in Bali, which is also a huge positive step forward, although it doesn’t solve all There will definitely be many difficulties in the future, but it has put a more solid foundation for Sino-Western relations, and we should all take a positive attitude.
Frank Schvalba-Holt: Thank you, Eric Solheim, for your detailed answer. You’re a Norwegian, you’re a regular here in the EU, and you’ll be in the EU a lot in the future, because you’re working on EU-Asian issues, so most people here think you’re a quasi-European, EU people. And because you’re very active on the environment, on North-South issues, all the people here who are active on North-South environmental issues know you, and if they haven’t met you in person, they hope to meet you in the future. Now, readers of the FT Chinese website have the opportunity to hear your point of view. Thank you, thank you, Eric Solheim.
Eric Solheim:I am very happy. Thank you very much.
(Dr. Li Donghong also made some contributions to the compilation of this article.)
(Introduction to the author: Song Xin is the founder of the Xinfu Consulting brand and a former policy advisor to the European Parliament. The reader’s WeChat ID: xinsong-cn-eu. The shopkeeper Zhou is a well-known business strategy expert, a strategic consultant for many global companies such as Bosch in Germany, and a reader Wechat ID: zhouzhanggui000. This article only represents the author’s point of view. Responsible editor email: Tao.email@example.com)