Europe and China
Europe and China are facing more common challenges than they would admit. The past decades have been accompanied by a fantastic ascent: After the destruction of our continent by Nazi rule and world war, the economic power of what is now the EU increased fivefold from $360bn (1960) to $16,229bn. China, formed in 1949, grew from $59bn to an astonishing $10,866bn. The dynamism and opening of world trade in particular made both players strong. Nevertheless, today Europeans fluctuate between a half-hearted belief in free trade and growing protectionist tendencies, stoked by criticism of globalisation, fanned by the media and populists. In China, Premier Li Keqiang declared reaching market economy status a priority, which brought advantages in EU trade; however, China is just as quick to hamper market access when it comes to keeping unwelcome competitors away from the domestic market. Does this mean that we are experiencing “Chinese-style globalisation”?
The Union is still an example of voluntary cooperation of sovereign states for ASEAN, Mercosur and Africa. However, others see the EU merely as extreme bureaucracy, an unstable Eurozone and disparity on the inside. China is seen just as ambivalently: a cleverly ruled economic wonderland and meritocratic model of development by some, and for critics a repressive autocracy that enjoys economic growth and retention of power at a considerable social and ecological price.
We are also faced with similar problems. First of all, we are left with some burning questions: How do we rule? When Austria was given Venice and Lombardy at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 after the defeat of Napoleon, Kaiser Franz asked his advisor Prince Metternich how these provinces should be ruled. His answer is noteworthy to this day: “Decentralised, your Majesty, otherwise you will have unhappy subjects and no tax income!” That should apply for the EU (with 28-member states) and the compulsion of some Eurocrats to intervene more and more intensely in the micromanagement of the member states, instead of subsidiary restraint – and also in the case of China, with its 22 provinces and extremely dominant central governance.
There is also the issue of policy regarding neighbouring countries: China is surrounded by 14 countries and the EU shares its borders with 22. The Union always wanted a “ring of friends” around it, but today it looks more like a “ring of fire”, stretching from eastern Ukraine and through the Middle East to Libya and the Maghreb region. The EU is now trying with its Neighbourhood Policy to strengthen economic prosperity and peace in the region. China’s neighbours are concerned by the hegemonic power of the “Middle Kingdom” and fear military upgrades and regional conflicts. Would more intense economic cooperation and disarmament of words and weapons not be more sensible – in the way such an approach somewhat paves the way for the tremendous One Belt, One Road neighbourhood project, with huge investments? Trade routes and access to resources being opened in this manner is part of the plan.
With 7% of the world’s population, today Europe represents one fifth of the global economy and half of all social expenditure. Too much, some criticise; above all, the latter is not said to be sustainable and is at the expense of important future investment. China points out the errors of Western capitalism again and again, but it should ask itself whether its strong focus on investment and export is making the income gap larger. Only when broad sections of the population profit from growth is the feared “middle income gap” avoidable.
China tries to combine the power monopoly of the Party with a liberal economy and restricted individual freedom. We, on the other hand, deem the combination of economic and political transparency essential. One freedom will crumble without the other. A balance of economic power, social responsibility and ecological sustainability needs both – which must be aggressively defended against the strength of populism.
All rely on innovation, creativity, education and the exploitation of digital opportunities to cement growth. Nevertheless, internal contradictions are evident: A digital domestic market for Europe has not yet been created, start-ups are facing difficulty, and there is a lack of risk-taking, business friendliness and willingness to reform. China, in turn, has considerable Internet giants: Huawei, Alibaba, Baidu, WeChat by Tencent (cashless purchasing, delivery and taxi service, games for 700 million users). However, popular bloggers are swiftly considered sinister by the political leaders. Since 2013, those who spread rumours to the rest of the world have been threatened with imprisonment. A credibility system is being developed, with which citizens are graded according to their internet activity. Orwell sends his greetings!
The growing role of China as a creative power is undisputable. The world should also acknowledge this, as reliable partners for peacekeeping, combatting climate change and the War on Terror are desperately needed. The Chinese think more strategically focus more on the long term, and Europe could learn a fair bit from them. It may be that the old western-dominated order is being eroded, but China and Europe would be best off not wishing for renewed world disorder.