Dr. van der Putten, Clingendael Security and Conflict Programme
Dr. Frans-Paul van der Putten joined Atlantic Community in 2010. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Security and Conflict Programme and at Clingendael Asia Studies. In this interview Dr. Frans-Paul van der Putten argues that Europeans should encourage the US to accept China’s equality, whereas the EU itself will not be capable of operating “as an equal to either the US or China”.
1. What are your current priorities in your work as Senior Research Fellow at the Clingendael Security and Conflict Programme and at Clingendael Asia Studies?
A priority in my work is to increase awareness – in particular in Europe - of the significance of China’s rise for international relations. Because of the magnitude of this process and to some degree also because of the geographic distance between China and Europe, it is difficult for Europeans to see clearly what is happening or even to be aware how much their international environment is changing. China’s rise is a cause of Europe’s changing position but it is also a sign of the fundamental shift that is taking place in the relationship between the West and the rest of the world. My work is aimed particularly at the implications for international security of China’s rise.
2. What is the greatest challenge to the transatlantic security today?
A major challenge with regard to security in the North Atlantic region is to preserve political stability and prosperity in Europe. Currently there are growing tensions both between and within European countries. In spite of the rising importance of Asia, the United States continues to have a major interest in European stability. One of the preconditions for stability in Europe is sustainable economic growth throughout the region. China’s emergence creates new opportunities for dynamism and growth while at the same time it also makes the global economic environment more competitive. It is of great importance that Europe adjusts itself economically and politically as much as possible in order to maximise the benefits from China’s rise while retaining European competitiveness. It should work closely with the United States in doing so, especially with regard to finding ways to respond to the growing influence of state capitalism in China’s relations with the West.
3. What are the possible implications of China’s military rise on transatlantic security?
There is a growing danger that sooner or later the United States and China will test their strength relative to each other by means of a military conflict. The fact that neither side wants such a conflict is no guarantee that it will not occur. To minimise the risk of armed conflict, all parties involved should avoid creating a setting within which war is the only remaining option to settle differences. China has been growing in strength and is now entering a phase in which it is no longer obvious that the US is economically and militarily greatly superior to China. The Second World War marked the end of British global power and the beginning of superpower status for the United States and the Soviet Union. The same war also made it clear that Germany and Japan did not have the capacity to become global powers. It would be disastrous if another major war would be required before the US accepts China as its equal.
Sino-US military tensions are a danger to transatlantic security, because they emphasise the fundamental difference between European and American security interests with regard to China. Moreover, an actual conflict between China and the US would have a highly damaging impact on the European (and global) economy. Consequently, Europe has an interest in contributing to stable Sino-US relations. This includes for Europeans to promote the idea that – assuming that China will continue its rise - the US should work towards accepting China as an equal, while Europe should itself accept that the European Union will not be able to operate as an equal to either the US or China.
4. In which subject areas should Chinese-Western cooperation be further developed?
In the immediate future, China and the West could strengthen cooperation on maritime security governance. In particular the joint counter-piracy efforts in the Gulf of Aden should be developed further in this direction. The EU is in a favourable position to take the lead in this regard, as it has a substantial naval presence in the region without being regarded as a threat by China. At a more general level, the West and China should cooperate to strengthen global financial stability, and regional stability in the developing world. This requires China assuming a greater role, and the West allowing China to take on this role in ways that benefit international stability. It should do so without attempting to impose on China preconditions that are aimed primarily at influencing the balance of power between China and the West.