Published: 12:11, April 19, 2024
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China's growth offers opportunities to Europe
By Natalie Benelli

I traveled to China for the first time in October 2023. I visited Beijing and Shanghai, and traveled to parts of Guizhou province and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. I saw a modern, progressive and rapidly advancing country that invests heavily in efforts to preserve the fruits of poverty alleviation, environmental protection, and the socioeconomic development of its least-developed regions.

China has pursued these national development programs in concert with a policy of international cooperation. Through the Belt and Road Initiative, which was launched in 2013, China is cooperating with more than 150 countries and 30 international organizations to help build an intercontinental network of railways, ports and airports, to the benefit of the people of all partner countries, regardless of their size and economic power.

Europe would do well to recognize the opportunities for cooperation arising from China's domestic and global initiatives.

The foreign, trade and fiscal policies of most European governments have long exploited the natural resources and labor of the Global South, mightily contributing to the global economic and social inequality as well as climate injustice.

At the same time, economic and social inequality and poverty has increased in some of Europe's wealthiest countries in terms of per capita GDP. According to the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), children and youths in Austria, Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Luxembourg, Norway, Switzerland and the United Kingdom are particularly affected. In Switzerland, the richest country in the world in terms of per capita wealth, child poverty increased by 10.3 percent between 2012-14 and 2019-21.

Today, one out of every five children in Switzerland is poor. Essential goods and services including food, decent housing, quality healthcare and education, electricity and gas have become unaffordable for a large number of Europeans.

On the other hand, China has lifted about 800 million people out of poverty during the past more than four decades, including about 100 million between 2012 and 2020. In fact, China eradicated extreme poverty 10 years before the goal set by the UN's 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Poverty eradication, infrastructure development and ecological initiatives are achievements that, for a country of 1.4 billion people, set the stage for enormous opportunities for cooperation and exchanges on the economic, educational and cultural levels.

Sadly, due to the distortions of Europe's mainstream media in their reporting on China and the commitments of European governments to policies of aggression, European countries miss these valuable opportunities. By aligning with the United States' foreign policy while stubbornly clinging to colonial policies, European governments are isolating themselves within the international community. This is most obvious in relation to the Ukraine crisis, with most European governments choosing the warpath rather than advocating for peace negotiations that take into equal account the legitimate claims of all countries involved.

Sweden and Finland, two former neutral countries, have joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and my own country, Switzerland, is slowly giving up its neutrality to align more closely with NATO. European governments have greatly increased their arms expenditure since 2022, further reducing social services and investment in public infrastructure, thus expediting the immiseration of ever larger percentages of their populations in addition to heading toward a third world war with their eyes wide open.

In contrast, the countries of the Global South, striving to move forward after freeing themselves from the shackles of colonialism and underdevelopment, look to China's example when it comes to successfully implementing the UN 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals domestically and internationally, including eradicating poverty, ending hunger, providing quality healthcare and education, protecting the environment, building sustainable cities and communities, and promoting worldwide partnerships and collaboration to achieve the SDGs so people across the world live in peace.

European governments' respect for and cooperation with China and its domestic and international policies will benefit the people of Europe, both through the material advantages in trade, education and culture, as well as through fostering international relations based on peace and mutually beneficial development.

In contrast, by following the US' lead of confrontation with and aggression toward China, Europe will only push the continent's people on to a foundering ship, while the tide of the Global South's aspirations for a better future continues to rise.

Economic and political cooperation between Europe and China based on "mutual respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual nonaggression, mutual noninterference in internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and peaceful coexistence", would be not only highly beneficial to the working people in Europe, but also necessary to promote peace and development for all humanity.

The author is a Swiss-based sociologist and the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Switzerland's independent community-based press organization Neue Presse.

The views don’t necessarily reflect those of China Daily