Global trends and China's future

Updated: 2012-06-08 10:41

By Alvaro de Vasconcelos and Nicola Casarini (China Daily)

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Global trends and China's future

In a polycentric world, Beijing will increasingly play a bigger role

How will the world look in 2030? Which trends will have the greatest impact over the next two decades? Will China become the world's largest economy as well as a political and military great power? What will be the implications of the rise of China and India and of the emergence of a polycentric world for future global governance? These are some of the questions addressed by the recently published ESPAS (European Strategy and Policy Analysis System) report titled Global Trends 2030 - Citizens in an Interconnected and Polycentric World.

According to the EU-funded report, the world of 2030 will be polycentric. There will be a plurality of actors, and no single world power will play a hegemonic role. This will generate greater room for maneuver for all international actors and give so-called middle powers a more prominent role on the world stage. Polycentrism will be accompanied by an economic power shift toward Asia.

China is projected to be the largest economic power with almost a fifth of world gross domestic product (GDP), and India will continue to rise. The two Asian giants will have by far the biggest middle classes in the world (23 and 18 per cent of global middle class consumption in 2030, respectively). According to the ESPAS report, should China and India develop peaceful cooperative relations, the 21st century will be the Asian century.

Despite this projected shift in economic power to China and India from the US, Europe and Japan, economic power does not correlate automatically with political influence. Other dimensions, such as soft power and military modernization, also play a role. Moreover, the influence of the major powers will also depend crucially on their ability to act as models for economic, political and societal development, in particular in their immediate neighborhoods.

The United States is likely to remain the world's major military power. However, present trends seem to suggest that there will be no single hegemonic world power; that the US and China are likely to be the most influential actors; that India will continue to rise; that Russia and Japan may lose the great power status they enjoyed in the 20th century; and that the EU - if member states are able to further converge - is likely to play a major role in shaping the emerging international order.

A constellation of rising middle powers, including Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa, will become ever more prominent. Traditional middle powers such as Canada and Australia may sustain their level of influence in global affairs. Europe's large member states are likely to play a significant global role if able to effectively use the multiplying factor of the EU. If Pakistan, Nigeria and Egypt consolidate their democracies, they could also become important middle range powers, with the capacity to exert a very positive regional influence.

Regionalism will be a power multiplier that is likely to favor international actors such as Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa, but not necessarily India or China. The international system that is likely to emerge as a result of all these shifts will probably create a balance between power politics and multilateralism, with states making issue-by-issue shifts and alliances. This will generate a higher level of unpredictability in international relations, and make it more necessary to attain a broad consensus even on matters requiring urgent global action.

By 2030, the information revolution will likely cover the entire planet. This revolution will empower citizens, including a large and more educated global middle class.It can therefore be assumed that the citizens of 2030 will want a greater say in their future than previous generations. Moreover, the demands and concerns of citizens in many different countries of the world are likely to converge, with a major impact on national politics and international relations. This will be the result mainly of greater awareness among the world's citizenry that their aspirations and grievances are shared. This awareness will create a global citizens' agenda that emphasizes fundamental freedoms, economic and social rights and, increasingly, environmental issues.

Citizens of the future are likely to be more aware of the threats they face together, and that they are part of a single human community in a highly interconnected world. But the emergence of a global public is also bound to generate increased expectations. This "gap" between what citizens want from their national governments and what these governments are able to deliver may become a source of friction, conflict and even revolt.How this challenge is resolved will depend greatly on the ability of national and global governance institutions to integrate both the citizens' demands and their representative institutions into the decision-making process.

The world in 2030 will be characterized by the diffusion of power. Meeting the challenges of human development will thus depend not only on governments, but increasingly on non-State actors, be they private companies, civil society non-governmental organizations, or philanthropic organizations.

The biggest unknown is how trends toward a polycentric world and the diffusion of power, including the rise of a global citizens' agenda, will interact to create viable institutions for global governance. In this context, a major question is the use that China will make of its growing capabilities, including its role in fashioning the future contours of the international system and of its institutions.

Given its size, trends within China will have profound implications for the future global order. According to the ESPAS report, it remains to be seen whether China will be able to continue its sustained pace of economic growth and implement political reforms.

There are already signs that a rising China may be a positive force in world affairs. Beijing already plays an active role in international organizations and multilateral forums. It is an important member of the UN Security Council and increasingly committed to supporting peacekeeping operations.

China's role in the IMF and the World Bank is set to increase, along with its responsibilities for global economic governance. Beijing is also an active member of the G20 and the BRICS grouping which seek to provide complementary responses to global problems. Furthermore, China is more and more involved in regional cooperation mechanisms. Beijing has been active in the ASEAN+3 process; has strengthened its presence in the ASEAN Regional Forum; and has promoted the Six Party Talks as the best option for resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue. Beijing has declared its commitment to ASEAN's principles of peaceful resolution of disputes and non-interference by becoming the first non-ASEAN state to sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation. However, according to the ESPAS report, territorial disputes in the South China Sea could, if not properly managed, upset efforts aimed at building security cooperation mechanisms in the region.

EU aspirations for a world order based on effective multilateralism will thus depend increasingly on the involvement of China in regional and global multilateral forums as well as its commitment to find cooperative solutions to regional and global problems. The EU looks forward to deepening collaboration with China on issues such as climate change, resources depletion, human security and R2P. In light of the ESPAS report, it remains in the long-term interest of the EU to build with China a future world order that meets the challenges of a single human community in a highly interconnected world.

Alvaro de Vasconcelos is director of the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) and editor of the ESPAS report; Nicola Casarini is research fellow at the EUISS and a contributor to the ESPAS report. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

(China Daily 06/08/2012 page8)