‘Europe needs to turn toward China,' says academic

By FU JING | China Daily | Updated: 2017-09-02 03:38

Nowadays, there are two dominant approaches used by world powers to deal with other countries, according to Belgian scholar of globalization Dries Lesage.

One is that of the West which, for nearly 500 years, has held the mentality of "rul-ing the world", sometimes through military intervention.

The other is that of China, which is implementing a win-win strategy to win the "hearts and minds" of many countries.

"But the mentality of the West, of ruling the world, should come to an end after being held for 500 years," says Lesage, director of the Ghent Institute for International Studies, at Ghent University in Belgium.

"This is because, materially, the West's economic and military weight cannot sustain it any more."

Nowadays, many troubles in the world still have their roots in the West's old mentality, says Lesage, an author-itative voice in Belgium on global governance, international tax policies, multipolarity and global governance.

Based on historic and current lessons, Lesage also urges the European Union to distance itself from US foreign policy and shape its own vision. He believes China has set an excellent example in forming sound relationships with partners in this multipolar world.

"The EU should not join the United States in its vision of ruling the world any more," says Lesage, during an lunch interview with China Daily near EU headquarters, before he heads for an important consultation meeting organized by Belgian government.

For five centuries, the West has been putting this vision into practice and many times has realized its goals by military means, Lesage says. The US and NATO still hold on to that approach, which originated in the colonial era and lasted until the end of Cold War. China suffered from Western dominance in the 1800s and 1900s, with various military attacks, he says.

What is more, he says, many problems nowadays in Africa and Eurasia are the result of this lasting mentality of the West.

On the other hand, China's rising global leadership is a big development on the international stage at the moment. It has become more assertive internationally in terms of expansion of influence - but he says this is not only in the interests of China but also of its partner countries throughout the world.

This, he says, gained momentum after US President Donald Trump's administration announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

"China now is similar, to some extent, to the US in the first decade after World War II," says Lesage.

The US had started in 1944 establishing the Bretton Woods monetary system and the United Nations, which are still the basic structures of the multilateral system that the US has benefited from.

In terms of influence, China is now taking a bigger responsibility in the world, demonstrated in its defence of the Paris Agreement, open economies and free trade.

The professor believes developments over the coming months and years will be fascinating.

He says the EU should reshape its foreign policy vision by responding to the evolving global situation, though so far there is no European consensus in this regard.

His "personal and subjective EU vision" is that the world must be multipolar, with the West's identity, covering those across the Atlantic, still in existence but as just one part of a multipolar world.

Furthermore, he says his EU vision must showcase inclusiveness, which means each player accepting the oth-ers and recognizing diversity, pluralism and a willingness to engage.

Elaborating further, he says mutual respect and equality are the essence of the international system and can help expand cooperation and discussion.

"Europe must know who are the new players now and for the years ahead," says Lesage.

He believes the EU's relationship with Russia should not continue to be "this bad" - referring to the sanctions imposed in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

"Europe should not continue the confrontations with Russia," says Lesage.

He emphasizes the essence of the EU's own vision, which also aims for win-win and a balanced and equal footing to everybody. Europe must understand that protecting its interests does not necessarily mean it being zero-sum game, says Lesage.

Asked if EU has begun to think about a new vision, he says: "I see the elements of it but don't see it as formed. Now what dominates is still the old mentality."

He warns that such a change of vision is moving very slowly at the European level.

However, he says that now China is a leader of open economy, free trade and an advocate of cooperation and mutual development. So in dealing with China, Lesage says the EU vision should be implemented by European institutions.

He says China and EU have used the same language in pursuing sustainable devel-opment and keeping commitments to Paris Agreement on climate change. What has impressed him is the linkage of the G20 agenda and the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

In his opinion, the SDGs - addressing pressing global issues environmentally, socially, economically and politically - have gone some way to offering solutions to emerging global crises.

He says the SDGs were approved in a difficult atmosphere in September 2015, amid the unfolding war in Syria and the Ukraine crisis, but they were a major achievement diplomatically. The G20 leaders endorsed the document again at the G20 summit in Hangzhou in 2016. Several G20 policies have been attached to the 2030 agenda and governments will be putting the goals at the centre of policymaking.

"The SDGs are not being marginalized, thanks to China's G20 presidency. Contin-uation is one characteristic of G20 and this should be kept from one presidency to another," he says.

Based on his observations, China has become proactive in solving regional conflicts, for which it has become a legitimate broker to offer diplomatic solutions by taking advantage of its neutral stance.

This has been seen in Syria, Yemen, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, Afghanistan and other regions, Lesage says. "China is different from the West and other powers, which have really made a mess of it. China is not involved. China can show legitimacy to respective parties. Its leadership is in mediating."

Lesage says China has not only become a broker in conflict zones but can also offer solutions on the ground. It focuses on business, cooperation, development, building infrastructure, and has created a win-win situation by imple-menting the Belt and Road Initiative in Afghanistan.

"This is an interesting approach, which has won hearts and minds in Afghani-stan. It is also a way to isolate extremists through business development and cooperation."

NATO, on the other hand, started its presence in Afghanistan in 2001 but, after 16 years, the country is still not stable. Military involvement should be blamed.

Regarding EU-China relations, he says Europe is "confused and divided" toward China, with some criticizing and others seeing China as an opportunity.

The European Commission's proposal to beef up screening of investment, especially that from China, and its inflexible attitude in pressing China to reduce its steel and iron production capacity have caused confrontations, even though the two sides are involved in a so-called strategic partnership.

In such a situation, China could easily become annoyed.

"When a friend criticizes you, you are more willing to listen. When an enemy criticizes you, you will just ignore them," says Lesage. "Europe is struggling with such a situation in terms of its relationship with China."

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