Global Eyes on China|Erik Solheim: Guangdong has a fantastic future

全球财经连线李依农 2024-03-11 18:51

南方财经全媒体记者 施诗 李依农 北京报道

In an exclusive interview with SFC reporter, Erik Solheim, former Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, underscored two pivotal aspects drawing significant global attention during this year's Two Sessions: China's economic growth target of around 5% and its strong emphasis on green development.

Erik Solheim received the 2023 Chinese Government Friendship Award few weeks ago. According to Solheim, the prospect of China achieving its economic goal holds significant promise for the global economy, while its dedication to green development, especially in sectors like electric vehicles, marks a notable stride toward environmental sustainability. 

Solheim further commended Guangdong, notably cities like Shenzhen, as exemplars of successfully integrating green technology into urban development. Furthermore, he believes that China's concerted effort to accelerate the development of the new quality productive forces,  will significantly drive the digitalization of a green economy.

China's economic growth target of around 5% brings positive impact to the world economy 

SFC Markets and Finance: What takeaways do you have from the Two Sessions? 

Erik Solheim: I think the most international attention was on the fact that China set the target for economic growth at (about) 5%. That's a very ambitious target, but if it's reached, it would have a huge positive impact on the global economy. Then, there was a focus on green development like electric vehicles, and there was a massive focus on making the Chinese economy more productive. 

SFC Markets and Finance: China will develop new quality productive forces at a faster pace. How do you interpret new quality productive forces?

Erik Solheim: I believe this comes at a time when China's neighbors, which are upper-middle-income countries, seem to be rich countries. And then the productivity of its economic forces will be very important. I see two main aspects to this. One is the digital part of the economy. China must be a global leader in artificial intelligence and everything digital. The other is the green economy. China is the global leader in electric vehicles, hydro-power, solar, and wind. Basically, everything green. But the crossroads between digital and green is where I see the main focus of the new emphasis on productivity. 

There are huge opportunities bringing together the green and the digital revolution

SFC Markets and Finance: According to the Government Work Report, China will also aim to promote green and low-carbon development. What do you think about this target?  

Erik Solheim: China is now the undisputed global leader in everything green. There's no way the world can make the renewable revolution without China. And whatever green technology you can think of. China is their leader. But, of course, with that comes the responsibility to share its technologies with others. And for Chinese companies to invest abroad so that other nations can also benefit from the jobs and prosperity coming from the green economy. 

SFC Markets and Finance: How can new quality productive forces boost green development?  

Erik Solheim: There are huge opportunities if we bring together the green and the digital revolution. For instance, it can make our energy system a lot more efficient. The sun does not always shine, and the wind does not always blow. We can use hydropower as the battery, but all this can be integrated by digital forces, so that we get a much more efficient economy. There was a very exciting development just before the Two Sessions. The two main battery makers in the world, BYD from Guangdong and CATL from Fujian, came together, with the government of China, with other battery makers, and with academic institutions to form a very powerful alliance, to make solid-state batteries for the future. This happens to be an enormous gift to the world because it will supercharge the renewable revolution, not only in batteries but also in conserving energy better. 

SFC Markets and Finance: China will continue pursuing a higher standard opening up. What does this mean for the world?

Erik Solheim: It's very important that Chinese companies go abroad. India needs jobs for Indians, Europeans are desperate for jobs for Europeans, and Africa for Africans. Everywhere in the world, people want jobs. There are millions of young people in the world without jobs. So, China cannot just export its green products to the world but must invest in other markets. This is happening, BYD has made a substantial investment in Brazil. The biggest solar company in the world, Longi, has invested in Vietnam and in Malaysia. There are so many examples that we need to see a lot more of that because other countries want jobs at home. However, China can invest and help make those jobs. That will, of course, also, in the long run, benefit the Chinese economy and provide for jobs in China. 

China needs to bring the entire country into the enormously positive, modern society

SFC Markets and Finance: China is on the way to modernization. What’s your perspective on China’s modernization?

Erik Solheim: China is now largely the most modern place in the world. If you visit specific southern Chinese cities like Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Xiamen, or Hangzhou, they are among the most modern cities. Nowhere else can you see the same level of modernity. China has the most modern rail system, the most modern airports, and still boasts the most digitalized economy. Everywhere in China, you can pay with your QR code, whereas most of Europe and America still rely on a cash economy. So, China is very, very modern, most of the world has not really realized it. Of course, China also faces challenges. While these cities are very modern, some parts of western and northern China are not as modern as southern China. And the countryside is not as modern as urban areas. So, China needs to bring everyone into this enormously positive, modern society. 

SFC Markets and Finance: Do you agree there are different types of modernization in the world? 

Erik Solheim: Absolutely. And interestingly enough, that was a big issue for the developing world from the very beginning, 'how can we modernize without westernizing?' Any nation that doesn’t modernize is doomed. You cannot bring everyone out of poverty without modern, productive forces. However, we don't want every country becomes American. Interestingly, the first nation to crack that code was Japan. Japan is still very Japanese, but of course, modern. Then Korea, still very Korean, but modern. China is Confucian, but modern. India is becoming more modern while retaining its Hindu traditions. Turkey is Muslim, yet modern. So, every society wants to build upon its roots, its traditions, its way of living, but introduce modernity into that context. And I think that's the best way forward for the world. We cannot all be Westerners, but we all need to modernize. 

SFC Markets and Finance: Do you think Western countries have stereotypes on China's modernization? 

Erik Solheim: Yes. For instance, many people in the West have not realized how fast China has reduced pollution. Ten years ago, I would never go jogging in Beijing because I wouldn't want to inhale that smog. But a couple of weeks back, I went jogging in Beijing in the very cold winter weather. The sun was bright, the sky was blue, and I could inhale the most beautiful air. No problem at all. But that transformation happened because China waged and largely won the war against pollution. Still, not everyone in the West has realized this. Many people still have this outdated view of China as a very polluted place. And I have to say, many Westerners are too arrogant and not curious enough. They should spend a lot more time trying to understand the rest of the world, and be a little more curious about China's history and traditions, as well as the modern developments in China. 

The BRI is to connect the world from infrastructure to cultural exchange

SFC Markets and Finance: The Belt and Road Initiative enters another golden decade. How can we enhance Belt and Road cooperation?

Erik Solheim: I just came from Bangladesh, where I saw this new marvelous bridge. That has been built by China in close partnership with Bangladesh, across the Ganges River. That one bridge has reportedly increased the economy of Bangladesh by 1%, because it has connected the land in a completely new way. This is just one example of the enormous power of the Belt and Road Initiative, to help people in the developing world. In the last ten years, China has helped build railroad corridors in Indonesia, Ethiopia, and Kenya. It has also contributed to building a lot of renewable energies. The future of the Belt and Road Initiative is to continue with this infrastructure development, to invest a lot more in solar and wind, in renewables, in developing countries, but then also adding some new elements which may be softer, like arts, education, health, cultural heritage, sports. To connect the world both with the hard basic infrastructure that people need to get out of poverty and with what makes our lives nicer, happier, more beautiful, and better. It can help in all these areas.

SFC Markets and Finance: Guangdong is a pacesetter of the country's reform and opening up. What role can Guangdong play in the Belt and Road cooperation? 

Erik Solheim: The Greater Bay Area is probably the most modern place on Earth. It hosts some of the most exciting companies in the world, like Huawei, Tencent, BYD, and the drone maker DJI. These are world-leading green and high-tech companies. So, Guangdong will set the standard for modern life in the years to come. The companies there have a huge opportunity to invest in other markets. And help Africa, Latin America, Europe, and others to develop in that green direction. Guangdong has developed fantastically, and it will play a very important role in the future of the world. Guangdong is only compared to Silicon Valley in America, California, when it comes to being the brainpower of the new digital revolution. 

Guangdong has a fantastic future

SFC Markets and Finance:  What lessons can other cities learn from Guangdong? 

Erik Solheim: Shenzhen is a fantastic green city, very interesting in both technology and sustainability. It has the highest number of electric taxis and buses in the world. But it also integrates world-leading bird sanctuaries and wetlands within the city. It features green corridors throughout the city and a lot of green buildings. So, Shenzhen is showing the world that you can embrace both green technology and nature integration within urban settings. Guangzhou and other cities in Guangdong are also embracing green initiatives. I think these are examples that people in other parts of the world are looking for. 

SFC Markets and Finance: Guangdong is also an innovation hub. How do you think about Guangdong's innovation? 

Erik Solheim: Absolutely. The companies I mentioned earlier, like Huawei, Tencent, DJI, and many others, are at the forefront, including many smaller and medium-sized companies, which are helping these big ones, are leading the global green and digital revolution. So, we need them to invest more, research more, and understand more. Also, they must ensure that technologies are used in a responsible manner. Artificial intelligence can be used for a lot of good. However, it can also be used to assist terrorists, spread fake news, or provoke more horrific wars. Therefore, companies and the government of China should ensure these technologies from Guangdong are utilized for positive outcomes. Guangdong is helping the world avoid the negative potential that comes from the high-tech revolution. 

SFC Markets and Finance: How do you think about the future of Guangdong?  

Erik Solheim: I think Guangdong has a fantastic future. As I said, it's already probably the most modern place under the sun anywhere in the world. And I'm sure it will develop this further. It will retain its distinctly Chinese character, people enjoying Chinese food, appreciating Chinese history and culture, and also relishing the specific cultural traits of southern China, like Cantonese food. But they will do so in a very modern way. And they will hopefully interact with other parts of the world. Bringing their modernity and unique cultural blend to the global stage. 

SFC Markets and Finance: Do you think Guangdong is a very green region?  

Erik Solheim: Yes, I think Guangdong is very green. But, of course, no one should be complacent. We should always strive to do more. One area where China can do more back home, but they can also help the world is moving towards a more circular economy. China has developed a significant number of solar panels and wind turbines, which is fantastic, But at some point, these items need to be recycled eventually. And we need to prepare for that already. Now, China is a leader in the digital economy, comes to computers or smartphones, we should ensure these are recycled into new products, so that we don’t need to bring new minerals for everything we do. We should make sure all single-use plastic is either avoided or recycled. And regarding clothing, we cannot continue throwing away 99% of all clothes. Utilizing Guangdong's brainpower to explore recycling clothing would be significant. So my request to the top leading place like Guangdong is to look into opportunities for the circular economy of the future, which would greatly help the planet. 

We can solve every major issue better if we work together

SFC Markets and Finance: You are an expert on green development. How can the international community enhance cooperation in terms of green? 

Erik Solheim: I think it's an absolute no-brainer that we can solve every major issue of the 21st century better if we work together. Climate change, environmental protection, avoiding wars like the one in Ukraine, and recharging economies after COVID-19 are just a few examples. We need to work together. Deep down, I believe most human beings understand this. We just need to stop those politicians who want to bring conflicts and wars. And those who speak negatively about other nations. My strongest recommendation when engaging with China is to look for the bright side of America and Europe. But also for Europeans and Americans to respect China. Try to understand and be curious about China so that we can work together. We can solve all problems if we work together. There is no limit to what humanity can resolve if we unite. 

SFC Markets and Finance: But it seems very hard for us to work together, especially for the U.S.?

Erik Solheim: There is unfortunately, a tendency in the U.S. because the U.S. dominated the world so enormously in the 20th century. Most notably the 'American century', where the U.S. dominated everything. And developed the habit of interfering in the internal affairs of others. They also held the view that basically everyone in the world should adopt their political system. However, more and more people understand that's not the case. We will have different political systems just as we have different religions and ideologies. But we need to work together, and America cannot decide everything. The future will involve two main powers: the United States and China. But there are many other powers who also want a say, like Europe, Turkey, Brazil, and Indonesia. Only if we work together can we succeed. And I tell my American friends, the arrogance from the time when you dominated the world cannot be sustained in the 21st century, because you’re not totally dominant any longer. Even for the people in America, you will do better if you’ve worked with others. 





记者:施诗 李依农 实习生梁旭琦 杨雨莱


拍摄:宋子荣 李依农 庞成

新媒体统筹:丁青云 曾婷芳 赖禧 黄达迅 

海外运营监制: 黄燕淑 

海外运营内容统筹: 黄子豪 

海外运营编辑:庄欢 吴婉婕 龙李华 张伟韬


(作者:李依农 编辑:施诗)