EU's focus on cooperation not conflict
Many European politicians have long been skeptical about the Belt and Road Initiative, but they might be more willing to change their minds after reading a report released on Tuesday that urges the European Union to copy China's Belt and Road Initiative to better channel the billions of euros it sends as aid each year to Africa.
The report by a group led by former senior EU official and economist Thomas Wieser calls for the establishment of a "European Climate and Sustainable Development Bank" to consolidate the EU's development funding activities.
Major Western news media have described it as emulating China's Belt and Road Initiative rather than countering it as they usually do when covering major moves by the EU relating to China.
For example, when European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker proposed a new alliance with Africa in September last year to deepen their economic ties, the BBC News' headline read: "Juncker unveils EU's Africa plan to counter China".
It seemed to suggest that EU is using Africa as a geopolitical tool and battleground, which is totally untrue. After I checked the EU strategy, I found that it includes facilitating African students to study at European universities and help for Africa improve the climate for business and increased financial assistance as well as a $46 billion in grants over the seven years from 2021.
I had my fingers crossed for the Juncker plan. But instead of calling it a move to counter China, a more apt description would be that the plan complements the Belt and Road Initiative.
China and the EU could therefore join hands to help African development.
Europe has its strength in helping Africa with its close historical, cultural and geographical ties to the continent. China has seen the great potential of African development based on its own economic development achieved over the past four decades.
The Chinese optimism and commitment in Africa is well reflected in the Ernst and Young Africa Attractiveness study released last month. It showed that China invested $72 billion in foreign direct investment in Africa between 2014 and 2018, followed by France ($34.17 billion), the United States ($30.85 billion), United Arab Emirates ($25.27 billion) and the United Kingdom ($17.68 billion).
China also leads in creating a total of 137,028 jobs in Africa during the period, compared with 57,970 by France and 62,004 by the US.
Indeed, the more nations that can catch up with China in FDI and job creation, the better for Africa. And if any country, or countries, can set a better example in helping African development, China should be happy to learn from it/them.
Yet for many journalists, depicting everything as conflict is genetic. A Reuters headline on Sept 27 reads:"In counterweight to China, EU, Japan sign deal to link Asia".
But when I read the EU document, it was just about their cooperation to build connectivity in Asia, things that China has been doing with both the Belt and Road Initiative and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), of which European nations are major stakeholders.
While Japan is not a member of AIIB, the Asian Development Bank, of which Japan is a major shareholder, has many co-financing projects with AIIB.
The statement by the EU-China Summit in Brussels in April said that the two sides will continue to forge synergies between the EU Strategy on Connecting Europe and Asia as well as the EU Trans-European Transport Networks and China's Belt and Road Initiative. The EU-China Connectivity Platform, in its fourth meeting this year, is the framework to address concrete cooperation.
Pitching China and the EU against each other may make spicy headlines, but it often distorts the real picture and misleads readers, contrary to journalists' mission.
The author is chief of China Daily EU Bureau based in Brussels.