Tackle turbulence in global context

Updated: 2010-12-03 14:37

By David Gosset (China Daily European Weekly)

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Tackle turbulence in global context

The interactions between Brussels and Beijing are both effects and causes of an evolving international context, and, in that sense, any analysis of Sino-European relations must consider non-Sino-European factors. But a strategy to renew the Sino-European partnership cannot be separated from a larger vision of the global village.

While the challenges of the industrial- and post-industrial society require new global governance, an ongoing realignment of global political power complicates and, to a certain extent, paralyzes the collective decision-making necessary to design it. In short, problems accumulate at a pace that dangerously exceeds the mobilization capacity of the international community.

The changes on the Asian continent, in South America, in the Muslim world from secular Turkey to Indonesia of the Pancasila, or in the post-Soviet Union space are certainly significant, but the major redistribution of influence is taking place between the West and the Chinese world. China's re-emergence corrects a development imbalance triggered by Europe's industrial revolution in the 18th century, but the re-entry of one-fifth of mankind at the center of history marks also the beginning of a period where different types of modernity have to coexist.

Even if, as shown by the tragic failure in Iraq or by the Afghan quagmire, an expansion of Pax Americana has become a geopolitical fantasy, the United States, still in a relatively dominant position and relying upon an unmatched hard power, will act to maintain an advantageous status quo.

Despite an erosion of US soft power - the more nuanced policies of Barack Obama cannot amend the catastrophic effects of the neo-cons' hubris or erase Wall Street's follies - American elites assume what they call world leadership, and wrongly postulate a universal acknowledgement of this ascendance in a posture that does not facilitate a collective response to transnational problems. Worse, the American forces unwilling to relinquish the politics of hegemony could be tempted to manipulate some dimensions of the crises to contain perceived rising rivals.

Another scenario has to prevail to avoid disastrous consequences. An appreciation of the extreme gravity of the transnational threats combined with a Jeffersonian America and a renewed Sino-European partnership could lead to the construction of more effective global governance. Despite the disappointment that followed the Copenhagen summit on climate change, the deadlock over the reform of the United Nations system, the difficulties in entering a post-Bretton Woods architecture or to reach a consensus on the Doha Development Round, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty signed by Washington and Moscow or the shift from the exclusive G8 to the G20 as a consequence of the financial crisis can be interpreted as steps in a more cooperative and inclusive direction.

Beyond the 'great wall of mistrust'

In a century of interdependence and coexisting modernities, if unipolarity is a mere illusion of order, multipolarity without effective multilateralism could be a source of real disorder. But in the international effort required to organize a multipolar world, can the West treat China as a truly equal partner? In the long and multilayered negotiation process that can lead to consensus on new international security or financial architectures, or in the complex but permanent global public debates echoed by powerful media, can the West look at the Chinese world with neither condescension nor preconception?

Sino-scepticism, defined as the reluctance to view China as a trustworthy co-architect of the new global order, impedes the progress toward a more balanced world governance. If one seriously hopes to see more Sino-Western synergy, one has first to comprehend the source of the mistrust that affects so deeply their mutual perception.

Although geographical distance does not separate the West and China anymore, a mental fault line keeps them apart. Less obvious than Sinophobia but more pervasive and unrelated with ideology that is, to a great extent, a diversion from deeper realities - the "Fu Manchu syndrome" precedes the suspicion toward "Red China" - an original schism divides the West and China like two opposite poles on a cognitive map.

The myth of the absolute otherness constructed by travelers in quest of exoticism and centuries of orientalism will disappear when, to borrow a thought that Thomas Paine applied to the US in his Common Sense, the cause of China with its 1.3 billion human beings will be spontaneously understood as the cause of all mankind.

While indispensable Sino-Western synergy does presuppose that the West fully connects with the dynamics of the Chinese renaissance, it also requires Beijing's continuation of its post-Maoist strategy of reform and opening-up. China's undeniable economic achievements should not reactivate what Matteo Ricci called the "superbia sinica", Chinese haughtiness; nor generate Sinocentric behavior, but should be seen as conditions for more institutional adjustments and global engagement.

'Europeanization' of de Gaulle's China policy

At an operational level, if diplomacy, public relations efforts and dialogue are necessary to dissipate mutual misconceptions, they are not sufficient to induce trust. Sino-European relations are especially important since they could realistically envelop new forms of cooperation that would flatten the great wall of mistrust.

Recognizing that the quality of the Sino-European link can impact relations between China and the West, and beyond, can improve the climate of international relations, it is urgent for Brussels and Beijing to reinvigorate their partnership.

Regrettably, one could argue that since the Seventh EU-China Summit at the very beginning of the first Barroso Commission, the relationship has been characterized by an irresolution that partly explains the narrative on a hypothetical Sino-American diarchy. To a certain extent, the discourse on the G2 aims to fill a strategic vacuum. However, the chapter of the hesitant Sino-European relations can be closed if both sides realize the unique value of their partnership and its global significance.

Brusselsis now better equipped to conceive and implement a strategic foreign action plan; and Catherine Ashton, its first high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, supported by Herman Van Rompuy, the president of the European Council, could make a difference by putting relations with Beijing in a truly global perspective at the top of her agenda.

Brussels' policymakers have to Europeanize Charles de Gaulle's policy toward Beijing, an independent and long-term strategy which considers China as a living matrix of civilization, that anticipates that its young republicanism will evolve into more perfect forms, and which counts on it as a generator of geopolitical equilibrium.

The EU should grant China market economy status - before Beijing gains it automatically in the framework of the World Trade Organization by 2016 at the latest - lift the arms embargo, both an obsolete policy and a manifest symbol of mistrust, and accelerate negotiations for a comprehensive partnership and cooperation agreement.

Simultaneously, the Sino-European link has to be re-energized by a new set of transformational cooperation. In order to support the development of the world's poorest continent, Brussels and Beijing should work with the African Union and its 53 members on a "Marshall Plan" for Africa. Moreover, Sino-European joint actions in Central and in South Asia would underline the importance of the Eurasian dimension. The thought of the Silk Road is one of the best antidotes against the great wall of mistrust.

Innovative Sino-European cooperation projects in China (it is time to invest in projects related to the media and to establish a Sino-European University), but also within the European Union (cooperation in medicine, for example, or a better use of the Chinatowns) could contribute to take the Sino-European relations to another level.

Commitment to new phasein China-Europe ties

In the joint communiqu, a new phase in China-EU relations, which followed the 13th EU-China Summit (Oct 6) the two sides "expressed their commitment to open a new phase in EU-China relations". Moreover, with the success of President Hu Jintao's visit to France (Nov 4-6), Paris will be once again in a position to contribute to more Sino-European synergy. The Sino-French declaration made on the occasion of the Hu's visit to Paris calls for the lifting of the EU's arms embargo on China.

During Hu's visit, French President Nicolas Sarkozy alluded to de Gaulle's recognition of Maoist China in 1964 and presented the general's farsightedness as a strong reference. Gaullism, understood as the effort to act according to permanent realities, remains relevant in the midst of changes and despite all the noise of superficial posturing. Two years after Sino-French tensions over the Dalai Lama, the unwise decision of the Nobel Peace Prize committee to grant its 2010 award to a Chinese dissident was a test for Paris' policy toward Beijing, France showed itsresolution to develop a long-term strategy of cooperation with China.

It is nowadays very common around the Pacific to deride what is depicted as a marginalizedcontinent, but despite its imperfections, the European Union is a giant laboratory that successfully tested new forms of governance not only able to reconcile former enemies but apt to integrate ancient nation states without the use of force.

To appreciate the spirit of this European republic in the making, one has to go back to the seminal Schuman Declaration (May 9, 1950), the first moment of the European integration: "Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements which first create a de facto solidarity".

Although the idea of supranational construction or a shared sovereignty between Brussels and Beijing is unrealistic, European and Chinese leaders can reinterpret the call for "concrete achievements creating de facto solidarity" or, in other words, recalibrate the notion of cooperation as an instrument to build trust and to unite people.

The post-World War II global security and financial architectures that survived the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union were first envisioned in the Atlantic Charter (1941) by Roosevelt and Churchill, two giants of the English-speaking world, and, to a great extent, designed by a small group of Americans properly called the "wise men". Cross-fertilization between Western and non-Western wisdoms in an enlarged group of "wise men" could transform what they have brilliantly established and take the global governance at a superior level.

For the contemporary "wise men", the words pronounced exactly 60 years ago by Robert Schuman in the historic declaration at the Quai d'Orsay are more relevant than ever: "World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it."

David Gosset is director of the Euro-China Center for International and Business Relations at the China Europe International Business School, Shanghai & Beijing, and founder of the Euro-China Forum.


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