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Reporter's log: Preserving history amid impressive progress and diversity

By Chen Weihua | China Daily | Updated: 2023-12-25 09:19
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For most Europeans, the 1.4 billion Chinese look pretty much the same; for many Chinese, Europeans also seem identical. However, my experience of covering the European Union and its 27 member states in the past five years has allowed me to see its diversity, strength and weakness.

I was impressed by how well Europeans have preserved their old cities as I visited many of them in past years. Comparatively, Chinese cities have bulldozed way too many historical neighborhoods in the past decades of rapid modernization.

Preserving history sometimes does mean a sacrifice of comfort having to drive and walk on charming but narrow and bumpy pebble streets often with no sidewalks, not so friendly to old folks.

The Schengen Agreement has made travel much easier, and I hope that there will be a similar one in East Asia where people can travel visa-free and borders are made less meaningful.

Covering the elections from France and Germany to Italy and Belgium has been a great way to understand the different political parties and how they form coalition governments.

I have learned how Europeans are different from country to country, but I am still trying to discover more nuances.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict has brought a bad feeling about the continent which triggered two world wars. The EU's approach in addressing the conflict and its lack of diplomacy are deeply worrying.

The outsized influence of the United States is felt across Europe in virtually every field, whether in politics or news media. It has prevented the EU from effectively seeking its "strategic autonomy", something French President Emmanuel Macron was passionate about for a while.

After three years of pandemic, Chinese tourists are getting ready to visit Europe again, but the Schengen visa application takes much longer time while the flights have not resumed to pre-pandemic levels.

China's recent announcement to allow visa-free travel for citizens of five EU member states — France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain — is a goodwill gesture. Hopefully, it will be expanded to attract more Europeans to China to see the country — its diversity, strength and weakness. China is much larger in territory, population and, now the economy, than the 27 EU member states combined.

On my first trip back to China in four years after the pandemic, I was also struck by the many changes. Life in my home city Shanghai is much more convenient thanks to the subway system, the longest in the world. There are so many electric cars, and the city buses have gone largely electric. E-commerce has flourished, and the efficient delivery service is among the best in the world.

A trip from Shanghai to Suzhou in the neighboring Jiangsu province now takes only 25 minutes on a high-speed train, and you no longer need a ticket but board the train with the ID card.

When I visited my cousin in Yinchuan, Ningxia Hui autonomous region, a relatively underdeveloped region in Northwest China, I was struck by the sea changes there in the past two decades. Its skyline, roads, train station, museums and even wineries can rival many in Europe (by the way, my hotel room was on the 47th floor). And it is regarded a third-tier city in China.

I have drawn a long list of Chinese cities that I want to visit and revisit after working abroad as a foreign correspondent for 14 years. I hope more Europeans and people from all over the world will visit China to see the country with their own eyes.

Seeing is believing, and good relations are based on good mutual understanding.

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