Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a business forum at the Quirinale Palace in Rome, Italy, on March 22. If Europe is disconnected from the opportunities generated by Chinese innovation, the continent could really become a museum. Photo: Bloomberg
by Thore Vestby
by Thore Vestby

Why Europe shouldn’t fall for American hype against China’s belt and road plan

  • The US is bent on discrediting China in Europe. It pressures allies not to buy Huawei technology but ignores claims it spied on Germany. And it condemns Chinese detention camps but forgets the havoc it has wrought after September 11

To gather national strength, just create an enemy. In Europe, the Americans are doing this daily on many levels, from small businesses to countries and the continent itself. It is apparent from the media coverage last year that China has been designated “the great danger”.

The United States is devoting huge resources to discrediting China in Europe. It is mobilising its political and diplomatic corps to get the world, especially Western nations, to believe that if Chinese economic progress continues, the world might collapse.

The strategy seems to be to spread insecurity, suspicion and falsehoods, and to threaten misery if countries fail to follow the US.

Washington has threatened retaliation if the EU limits US involvement in pan-continental military projects. It has warned Turkey not to purchase S-400 rockets from Russia. It has pressured allies not to buy 5G equipment from Huawei, although other contenders, Nokia and Ericsson, also make phones in China.
How dare the Americans speak out against Chinese espionage, when they are reported to have tapped German ministers’ phones – and even Chancellor Angela Merkel’s?
China’s “Belt and Road Initiative” is constantly discredited, although the US is starting a similar development project, the Build Act. The US hypes the alleged Chinese debt traps in Africa on media channels across Europe, when China, the biggest holder of US foreign debt, has yet to weaponise it.
The US has twisted an economic success story into a narrative about a race for world domination. It criticises Chinese detention camps for Muslims, which are intended to protect against terrorism.
Evidently, the US has forgotten what it did after September 11: a “war on terror” was fought, hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed and Europe experienced a refugee crisis.

Few have spoken up for China in Europe, but let me raise some basic points.

First, China's development is rooted in more than 4,000 years of recorded history. It contains a basic concept that is diametrically opposed to the world view of the 242-year-old US, which has dominated the West since the end of the second world war.

Second, the West – read, the US – wants to rule in a world of imbalance; China seeks balance. Third, the West puts the individual first; China, the country. Fourth, t he West emphasises an “either you are with us or you are against us” mentality; China seeks a “shared future for mankind” .

Finally, when the West encounters resistance, it confronts or invades; China stops, waits and sees.

I have been visiting China every three months over the past three years and everywhere I have encountered a friendly, progressive, learning and developing nation. Most in the West imagine bicycles, rice fields and Mao when they think of China.

I see technological, infrastructure and management solutions that are far ahead of the West, almost on every level and in every field. I once said to a highly respected Chinese: “What is happening in China now is like a miracle.” The answer I got was: “No, no, this is hard work.”

It is crucial that the ongoing trade negotiations between the US and China end in an agreement, primarily for the two countries, but also for the rest of the world. If not, I’m afraid Europe will be disconnected from the opportunities generated by Chinese innovation; Europe could really become a museum.

The US does not understand that the Belt and Road Initiative comes from Chinese culture: the plan is about peace, trade, two-way exchanges of culture and education, and win-win solutions. This is classic sustainability and this is what the Chinese will focus on, no matter what happens.

Finally, there is wisdom to be gleaned from the famous story of Zhou Enlai in the early 1970s. When the Chinese leader was supposedly asked about the impact of the French Revolution, he is reported to have said it was “too early” to judge.

Thore Vestby is a former member of the Norwegian Parliament and has been mayor for 12 years of Frogn municipality, outside Oslo