The People’s Republic of China has just celebrated the 60th anniversary of its founding, but the world’s most populous nation only recently began to tap its potential global economic influence. The Middle Kingdom’s growth has been so spectacular that “China’s rise” and the “Chinese threat” are terms that are regularly used, reflecting the trepidation that many feel towards this still-emerging power.
China evokes mixed feelings. Some embrace the country as the next economic hegemon, critical to future global growth. Others distrust Beijing’s authoritarian politics. The lighting of the Empire State Building on October 1, the actual 60th anniversary, in China’s national colors of red and yellow would have been unthinkable just a decade ago. At the same time the gesture unleashed criticism of the repression of Chinese democracy and human rights.
Yet both sides are likely to agree on one point: China matters. In fact, a new world order has arisen as a result of “China’s rise”. A global triangular power structure now exists, encompassing the United States, the European Union and China. The recent replacement of the G8 with the G20, which occurred in the shadow of the financial crisis, is another indication that the three increasingly have a leading role in world economic affairs.
This G3 as a structure is sure to gain importance in tackling global challenges. The G3 will soon account for the world’s largest GDPs (assuming China surpasses Japan later this year, as expected). The trio have a sophisticated network of foreign relations between one another and with the rest of the world. The development of these relations will greatly influence global political and economic development.
To some extent, China’s rise puts an end to the Bretton Woods system. Many issues of trans-Atlantic interest must now consider Beijing’s position and policy direction. This has most clearly been seen in recent efforts to reform the international financial institutions, stop Iranian nuclear proliferation, formulate a global initiative to combat climate change and halt genocide in Darfur.
This list alone shows that transatlantic issues do not dominate the G3 structure. And the difficulty in forging any consensus reflects China’s seemingly unorthodox policies, which can diverge from those of other powers. Beijing’s energy needs, for example, represent an obstacle for EU-US efforts to impose stricter sanctions on Iran for its nuclear activities. However, China and the US conduct more in-depth consultations on climate change and the financial crisis than either does with EU.
This imbalance must not continue. All three must manage their relationships with one another better, clarify their common interests and develop real trust if they are to successfully confront the challenges that they all face. These challenges include energy security and nuclear proliferation.
Fortunately, the three parties are moving in the right direction, even if slowly and bilaterally (rather than acting in concert). But each needs to re-examine their policies if a truly triangular relationship is to be established. The EU must harmonize its member-states’ approaches to Beijing. The European Parliament (EP) must broaden its agenda with China, especially now that the Lisbon Treaty looks likely to take effect. Beijing currently views the EP with much mistrust. For its part, China must balance its roles as a large, developing nation and a responsible world power. It has to tackle fundamental domestic issues, such as improving social welfare, boosting domestic consumption, making transparent its policymaking process and developing a politically independent legal system. China must also enact a public-diplomacy program to engender more trust within the EU and the US. Finally, Washington would benefit itself and others through greater burden-sharing. The EU and China would also gain from a less politically and economically overstretched US.
The financial crisis offered an opportunity for the US, the EU and China to cooperate and prevent a global meltdown. Their leaders should take advantage of this precedent to work together on other common policy priorities.
Ting Xu is a Senior Project Manager at the Bertelsmann Foundation in Washington, DC. All the views contained in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Bertelsmann Foundation.
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