Last Word

Common approach

Updated: 2011-03-18 11:09

By Matt Hodges (China Daily European Weekly)

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Unlike others who have voiced alarm at China's move to buy up bonds in troubled economies such as Greece, Portugal and Spain, Prodi sees it as an encouraging sign. He also views the transition from the G8 to the G20 as a positive move.

One of the pressing concerns, for him, is China's international image. The country would profit "from being more open in discussing delicate political problems", he says. He also believes it should pursue greater dialogue in areas where its objectives may be open to debate, such as its investments in Africa.

Common approach

"China must not be afraid of this openness," he says. "You have to explain to us (Europeans), because very few are aware of the problems that China has regarding areas of poverty and areas of development; the effort to have a new regional policy; and the increase in internal dialogue that I find every time I come to China."

"Because we (in Europe) are not taking some common decisions, the perception of fear prevails on the process of civilian and common work. And this is what I am trying to change."

One issue close to Prodi's heart is what is happening in the Tuscan textile city of Prato. In the last 20 years, Prato has seen itself overrun by Chinese immigrants (many of them illegal).

Instead of integrating with the local community, the merchants from Wenzhou - a city near Shanghai famous for its entrepreneurs - mostly build little Chinese enclaves and see their cheaper "pronto moda" operations flourish, while Prato's traditional yarn and fabric industries die out in the face of competition from China. Not surprisingly, race relations and community conflict arisen in the region have deteriorated.

This issue, which reflects a broader trend of China gradually overwhelming Italy's textile market, was crystallized in a book by Italian journalist Silvia Pieraccini called The Chinese Siege.

It also bothers Prodi. He booked a trip to Wenzhou during his latest China jaunt and sent his former military advisor, Giuseppe Cucchi, scurrying after this reporter after our interview ended to hammer home the point.

"Mr Prodithinks it is important for China's international image that local authorities here and in Europe work together to solve common problems," says Cucchi, the former secretary-general of Italy's Executive Committee for Intelligence and Security Services.

"We need to show people the benefits of working with China, not just the potential problems," says Cucchi. In this respect, Prato's mayor led by example, suggesting that Chinese manufacturing could be combined with Italian production values to create a fashion center in the city.

One of the benefits for Prodi, who now serves as chairman of the UN-AU Panel for Peacekeeping in Africa, is having another strong partner to develop the 9-year-old African Union into a more cohesively operational body. While he would love to see this modeled along the lines of the EU, which grew from 15 to 25 states under his watch as president of the EC, he does not expect this to happen any time soon.

"What I am preoccupied with now is making sure that neither China, nor the European countries, nor the United States, take Africa as a battlefield for the future, as was done by the European colonial states in the past.

"I think what happens now will be of the utmost interest: Cooperation among the United States, China and the European Union in Africa, a common effort to reinforce the process of cooperation among African countries by building common infrastructure, and a progressive common market.

"This is my one interest: to try to contribute in some small way toward having cooperation, not a clash, in Africa, among the so-called eight powers," he says, citing challenges such as Sudan, the poor distribution of water from the Nile, and peacekeeping efforts in Libya as promising points of intersection between the three power groups.

Part of his work with CEIBS, China's leading business school, may see him contribute to its pioneering projects in Africa, which include teaching African tribal leaders and MBA students there, but he would like to see positive political action in the region, too.

"The Chinese approach is completely different from Europe's former policy. It is a continental approach, vis--vis Africa.

"China, for the first time in history, is exporting goods, capital, people, workers and technology. This never happened before.

"This is a big change, because it means a long-range policy. It means the necessity of strong links, the necessity to look at the future with a long-range view."

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