Remarks by Erik Solheim at the BRIX Webinar: “Europeans for the BRI”

These are the remarks by Mr. Erik Solheim during the Webinar “Europeans for the Belt and Road Initiative”, organized by the Belt and Road Institute in Sweden on April 29th, 2024.

Hello to everyone at the Belt and Road seminar organized by the Belt and Road Institute of Stockholm. A couple of weeks back, Janet Yellen, the American Secretary of Treasury went to Beijing and it was a most interesting visit. Because look what was her advice or what did she really demand from China? And that was she said ”please China, please, please, please don’t overwhelm the world with cheap green products.” I thought that was what the world wanted. I also in fact thought that was what the United States wanted, because what we really want is a transformation of the world into ”green”, and China is leading that now, and Yellen is calling on China to slow down a little bit on this. This is of course contrary to the interest of the world, it’s also contrary to the entire thinking of the United States of America for the last at least 100 years, which was that any nation should speed up its production, and based on that we should trade. And to have trade, well, some nations need to have a surplus, otherwise there is no trade, and Madame Yellen asked China to make sure that it didn’t make itself able to sell as much to the world, it should basically consume at home what it is now producing for the world. Well that’s contrary to every interest of the United States for so long and also to economic theory which is based on the fact that one nation is producing more and another producing some other product and then then we trade and then we all develop. And of course it underlines the fact that China is now the one indispensable nation for the green transformation. China has 60% of all green products: solar, wind, hydro power, electric batteries, electric car, high-speed rail, metros. Whatever we can mention on green products, China is 60% or more. China is probably 98% of all electric buses and more than 90% of all solar panels, so the leadership of China is huge. The rest of the world simply needs to get up early in the morning if you want to compete with China. This of course makes Belt and Road incredibly important, because Belt and Road is a major vehicle to spread Chinese technology, knowledge and expertise to the world, and for China of course to learn from the process of mutual learning. I think that’s the three main aspects of Belt and Road for the next decade. It will be a massive opportunity to share knowledge and invest in green technologies, particularly renewables. Chinese companies are the lead companies in all renewables, like LONGi and Tongway in solar, or China’s Three Gorges in hydro power, Goldwin and Envision in wind power and CATL and BYD in batteries and electric cars. We want all these companies to invest abroad and Belt and Road is a major vehicle for that. Belt and Road is also a fantastic opportunity to make green corridors. The last 10 years we have seen the Addis Ababa-Djibouti corridor or the Nairobi-Mumbasa corridors in Africa, or the Yunnan to Laos railroad, or railroad in Indonesia – many new green corridors. I think in the next decade we will see a lot more. It should be possible to completely connect the entire high-speed rail system in Southeast Asia. That will mean you can go from Beijing to Singapore in one long day or a day and a night. And Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand may be connected to such a network in many different ways. We provide a fantastic green transportation system for Southeast Asia. And Indonesia may see the railroad which is currently from Jakarta to Bandung being extended all the way to Surabaya, which will link 150 million people living on Java to green high-speed rail. And added to green corridors and renewable energies, Belt and Road is also an opportunity as President Xi highlighted in a speech in October for museums, sports, culture, heritage, and the softer aspects of life like education and health, opportunity to share experience on all this. The attitude of the West should not be confrontational to Belt and Road, even if of course Belt and Road is also based on Chinese interest, I mean every foreign policy scheme is based on the interest of a nation. The attitude of the West in my view should be to embrace and to cooperate wherever the opportunities to cooperate, to develop, say African or Latin American nations, let’s look into how we can cooperate. And then it should be be to supplement rather than to compete. Look, sometimes Americans are running around in Africa and complaining about high-speed rail from China. Well, China’s constructed 45,000 kilometers of high speeed rail in the last 15 years. United States of America has constructed exactly – we all know – zero. How likely is it that the United States can compete with China in high-speed rail in Africa – or rail at all – when it has not done it at home. Strength abroad always comes from strength at home. Why don’t the United States look into its own strength? United States may still be ahead of China in artificial intelligence, at least they are very they are at the at the center of the development of artificial intelligence. United States is strong in medicines, probably the best vaccines made during Covid came in the West. Why don’t the United States then look into it can supplement, complement China’s efforts in Africa to help African nations in areas where they may be stronger, for example offering to make cheap vaccines for the poor in Africa, based on the money made in the Western markets where you can develop the vaccines and then make them at a cheap rate in Africa. Rather than compete why don’t we complement and supplement? Then, lastly, what should be the overall attitude to Belt and Road and to the Western-Chinese relationship? Because also Europe of course is benefiting from Belt and Road. Piraeus Port in Greece is actually an example. Another one is the new and the development Budapest-Belgrade Railroad and there are many other examples. But we need to manage competition and accelerate cooperation. A few basic principles I think are critical. First whole must be based on the idea of cooperation and respect. Every basic issue and importance in the 21st century is easier to resolve if you work together. Wars in Ukraine and Gaza, climate change, environment destruction, supercharging the economies after after Covid. whatever the issue is, let’s work together based on mutual respect. The West should respect China, China should respect the West. No one should attempt to, or even believe that we can, change the political system of other nations. Let’s both improve our own systems and make those work and then on that basic and mutual respect we can work together. Then secondly there must be dialogue. I mean there will always be differences. We may not completely agree, say, as how to resolve the conflict in Ukraine. Then let there be a dialogue and that may help solving the issue. The same, of course. with Gaza or Sudan or any other Global issues. And then there are disputes coming, say, from different economic interests. Of course the main reason why Madame Yellen went to China was that she’s afraid for jobs in America. Every American politician need jobs at home. But then an answer to that is a dialogue with China. Maybe to invite Chinese companies to invest in America, so that the jobs are coming there rather than just importing from abroad? I mean United States would enormously benefit from Chinese investments in the electric car industry or the electric battery industry or the solar model industry. I know that many Americans are skeptical to that for geostrategic reasons, but that would be the proper answer if they are afraid of (losing) jobs. Invite those with the best technology to come and invest in your country. And then, lastly, we need to manage the two concepts of cooperation and competition. Business competition is not bad, that’s what’s driving economic and technological development, that’s what’s driving innovation and is very, very good also for the green development. Look, China had no stake of importance in the old car industry. It has no brand like Toyota or Volkswagen but then China leapfrogging into electric vehicles made an enormous improvement of that industry and it forces Western companies to compete, so, competition is not bad, that’s needed. But, competition and cooperation must go hand in hand and when there are disputes we need mechanisms for that, like, say the World Trade Organization. So, just to summarize, we are at a very interesting point in human history. China’s supercharging the green development in the world, we all need China if you want the world to go green and if you want to solve climate change and environment destruction, China is the one indispensable nation. But then the West need to find a way to cooperate and compete with China and the way where we resolve all our disputes in an amendable way through dialogue and mutual respect. Thank you so much for listening. Xie xie.