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China playing a bigger global role as Lehmann had foreseen

By Fu Jing | China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-02 08:57

The year 2017 ended on a sad note, with an email from IMD, a top European executive school in Switzerland, saying that professor and founder of Evian Group Jean-Pierre Lehmann had passed away at the age of 72.

In May, when I had an enlightening discussion with Lehmann in the IMD's picturesque and tranquil campus beside Geneva Lake in Lausanne, he told me that he still had the energy to speak on political economy from early morning to night for seven consecutive days. He was heading for an annual executive leadership program in Hong Kong University. In his inimitable humble manner, Lehmann said the young Chinese attending that program had taught him a lot about an evolving China.

It was while reading the long and touchingly penned email, summarizing Lehmann's prolific career and his passion about Asia, China in particular, and speaking at two of his memorials in France and Switzerland that I really realized he had left us forever.

I regret not being able to attend the other memorials for Lehmann, who was among the few honest observers on China, in Europe as I am back in China. But I cherish the 10-year friendship with the soft-spoken professor. Although we exchanged emails regularly, we did not meet until that fateful day in May.

Shortly after our meeting in Lausanne, he visited me twice in China Daily's Brussels office, and discussed about Brexit, the Belt and Road Initiative, and the future of Europe. He also said that like many ordinary people, he thought staying together with the loved ones was the most enjoyable thing in life apart from teaching and academic pursuit.

I benefited from his advice that music, literature, movies and sports are as important as reading and writing for the healthy development of the human mind. During his visits to Brussels, he was kind enough to discuss with the interns their hobbies and reading habits.

The Evian Group he established is an international coalition of corporate, government and opinion leaders aimed at boosting global prosperity.

In Brussels he updated me about his plan of reshuffling the dialogue platform and even invited me to speak at one of its programs. And even though I couldn't attend the program because of my busy schedule, when I invited him to speak via video call on an education program, which I co-founded and which was attended by school headmasters from China's rural regions, he was gracious enough to share his knowledge and wisdom with the participants last summer. He said sharing constructive knowledge was his inborn trait.

His first interview and the final one reflect his deep insights into today's fast changing world. During his conservation with me in May, he told me that he had stored the photographs of all the Chinese leaders, from Mao Zedong to President Xi Jinping, shaking hands with foreign leaders at summits and meetings and the handshakes of Xi symbolize China's new spirit of openness. Talking about Xi, he said: "It is evident that no other leader has shaken so many hands in such a short time. This is China's coming out, and it's a gesture but it's also a symbol."

Since late 2012, Xi has visited about 50 countries and hosted the APEC and G20 meetings and the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation and proactively contributed to global governance reform.

These developments delighted Lehmann. When I first wrote to him at the beginning of the global financial crisis, he said the global financial regime should be reformed, emphasizing that it is important to reflect whether some of the institutions set up 60 years ago in a very different environment from now could still lead the world through the next 60 years.

He urged China to play a bigger role in that reform. And before his premature death, Lehmann would have realized that China is indeed playing a greater role in global governance reform.

The author is deputy chief of China Daily European Bureau.

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