Europe, stay strong: Spring is coming

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV.COM Ltd.

A man sits in front of the 5G logo at the China Hi-Tech Fair entrance reflected in the ornament in Shenzhen, Guangdong Province, China, 13 November 2019. [EPA-EFE/ALEX PLAVEVSKI]

It’s sunny and warm in Shenzhen now, and the restaurants and cafes are serving lunch to young professionals and workers in the open air. People are chatting, and sitting on park benches while eating, or making their way back to their offices, writes Abraham Liu.

Abraham Liu is Huawei Vice President for the European Region and Chief Representative to the EU Institutions, Brussels.

The traffic is busy, and the shops are open and doing good trade. At a nearby hotel, the airport shuttle bus is pulling away from the lobby on time, as usual. It’s a normal spring day in this sprawling city of 13 million people. Except it’s not.

If you look closely, you can see that everyone is wearing a mask. People are eating their lunch distanced from each other and in staggered shifts. Many are taking away pre-ordered packed lunches back to their desks.

There are more cars on the road than usual, and the work shuttle busses that are normally full of employees being ferried back and forth to their homes are half empty. It’s almost impossible to find a parking space, as people choose to drive on their own to work.

The hotel to airport mini-van has no-one on board – because the hotel has no guests. Many of the smaller restaurants and corner shops are still shut – sadly, never to reopen.

The Cinema is still advertising films from 3 months ago, as its shutters are down and its screens dark. The famous electronics market downtown is doing business – but only a third of stalls are trading – the others have no customers and no reason to open.

Residents have their temperatures monitored every time they enter their compounds, and no visitors from outside are allowed in. Boyfriends and girlfriends remain separated.

These are the stories I hear from my colleagues in Shenzhen, where Huawei has its headquarters. It’s clear to me that things have changed. Some of them temporarily, but some of them perhaps more permanently.

And, I believe, the experience we will go through here in Europe will be very similar. At the moment we are still in the midst of the situation here, but we will need to adjust to a new world, post-COVID-19. Not least in the world of work and business.

On a very basic level, I think we have all found remote working and working from home challenging during this period. And I think it has shown that there are still technological problems – for example, the shortcomings of some of Europe’s broadband networks, and their difficulty coping with such an increase in demand on the networks.

I also believe that after this period, it’s going to be essential for economies to get going fast again, so that truly no-one is left behind, and that the inevitable job-losses are minimized, and it’s the duty of global companies like Huawei to help in that process.

Many people across Europe may have lost their jobs just like in China, and there could be many people having to start again.

We may go in and out of lockdowns and restrictions for a very long time…the path is not going to be a short or a straight one.

That is why it’s important to stress that we are increasing our commitment to Europe this year. We will be creating more jobs for Europeans – for example, we have already announced our plans to build a factory to make 5G equipment here in Europe, and we are continuing our search for talented people to join us across the continent.

The Coronavirus pandemic has also exposed the big differences in connectivity and digital economies around the world, and around Europe in fact. And again, this highlights the need to move fast after this period with investment in new connectivity solutions like 5G.

Governments will have lots of debt, so things will be difficult. New businesses will need to start and grow, and there will be new opportunities and ways of doing things. Hopefully, people will have recognised the good that technology has done and that the digital economy was able to contribute during this difficult period.

Technology does not exist in a vacuum – it is just a tool for humans. In the long run, this could actually help close the gap on the digital divide and bring Europe closer to its goal of Digital Sovereignty.

Improving our connectivity and our digital economies is the best way to do this, regardless of any external geopolitical influences. The world is interconnected and needs to be more so to help us get through challenges like this.

It is possible to build a new business and do new types of business if the technology is there, and we can help re-build businesses, livelihoods, and countries’ economies, creating new jobs faster.

Many people will endure hardships as the world starts to move on, but I believe particularly as a company operating in the tech sphere, but not just because of that, we can help. We want to help. Indeed it’s our duty to do so on a continent that has shown us so much trust over the past 20 years.

After all, it is spring in Shenzhen now. The cherry blossoms are blooming again. And, I am convinced, it will soon be spring in Europe too.

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