By Annemarie Ulbrich
In recent years, there has been a battle for supremacy between the US and China, both states trying to strengthen their influence not only in economics but also in the field of politics. This battle for power and the rise of China can certainly not be proclaimed as the new cold war but it has not been without consequences for Europe and other important global players such as Russia. The same is true for India, which has become what we call “a rising star” on the economic stage following a different path.
At the event “The Contest for Supremacy Between the US and China – and Consequences for Europe” hosted by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Prof. Adam Friedberg working at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School, and Charles Grant, Director at the Centre for European Reform, discussed current developments by pointing out the characteristics of the relations which the US and Europe maintain with China.
Adam Friedberg classifies the problems between the US and China as not only caused by misunderstandings but rooted within a long-lasting climate of mistrust that has developed over many decades. The US perceives the authoritarian system as a possible threat to all democracies, which explains why ideological frictions occur. For 20 years, the US has followed a two-way-strategy characterized by engagement with China on one hand – to draw the state in on multiple levels such as science. On the other hand, the US tries to maintain the balance of power by finding other alliance partners in Asia such as Singapore or India which share the same interests.
China’s strategy on the other hand can be broken down to three points:
– They try to avoid any confrontation with other countries, but first and foremost with the US in order to stabilize the situation and to boost the economy.
– On the other hand, they develop new strategies for their military. Friedberg predicts that the military will gain ever more influence on Chinese politics as it grows in size.
– Thirdly, China has accepted a defensive position but refuses to be passive.
Friedberg also reveals the objectives China pursues with this strategy: Not only is the country seeking stabilization within the region as domestic equilibrium is very important, but in the long run China also seeks to displace the US as the most influential power in the region. This rivalry and a possible military imbalance are thus obviously great concerns to the US.
Nevertheless, the danger to the democracies surrounding China should not be overestimated, Friedberg says. Even though China is eager to push its influence by investing money which puts political pressure on the bordering countries in favor of cooperation and despite its subliminal animosity for neighbouring democratic systems, China does not see politics as a mission, Friedberg says. Surely, China would be in favor of being politically dominant within the region but does not have aspirations for territorial expansion at the moment.
Friedberg also states some points summing up the US expectations of the European Union:
– All democracies all over the world, including the EU, should stay together and communicate the same message to China.
– Cooperation can be made possible as trade already has shown. Friedberg also mentions cyber security as a possible new field.
– Single countries of the EU should keep up the dialogue with countries in the region, as Britain has already with India, to balance the situation and to create a stable communication.
Charles Grant on the other hand admits that the Europeans do not take Asian security much into account. As it does not affect their immediate neighbours as recent events in the Mediterranean or in Eastern Europe have, it is not at the top of the agenda for most European countries. The closer the region, the bigger the effect of European politics can be. Moreover, it is also a question of time and money – small defense budgets keep the EU from intervening in Asia. Nevertheless, Europe has a partnership with China and Grant also points out five points which Europe should try to achieve within this partnership in the near future:
– The focus should be on global governance where Europe should step up as a good example.
– The EU has to put pressure on China to achieve an opening of the Chinese markets to foreign investors and to break down existing bans.
– He agrees with Friedberg by saying that the EU should stay united, sending out clear messages to China.
– The EU should be willing to bargain to achieve a balanced situation.
– Nevertheless, the question of human rights should not be ignored even though the relationship should not be based on that point alone as continued communication and trade are also important.
Thus, China should be a global and responsible stakeholder. Even though it plays more or less by the rules in the economic field, it does not do so on a security level. Grant points out that the dangers of destabilization and blaming the west are always existent.
Even though China is such a strong player on the economic level, it cannot help the struggling EU. Grant makes it clear that as it would be too dangerous to accept money in exchange for advantages on the European market, China should only contribute by investing in certain infrastructure projects.
The two speakers also point out the importance of oil and gas as drivers for China’s foreign policy. Friedberg argues that China will surely continue to cooperate with Russia, even though they are not natural allies, and he hopes that the US will eventually be able to pull Russia away from China.
Even though relations between China and Russia have never been better, they are equally characterized by an underlying mistrust, Grant adds. Russia has accepted that it can no longer be the dominant part as China’s economy is growing much faster, but nevertheless China has to offer Russia a status as an equal partner to make trade possible. The relationship is also influenced by fear: Russia fears to lose even more power on the market, while China hopes to prevent Russia from turning even more towards the Western countries. As the example of Gazprom shows, this has already begun: the company does not send gas to the East but only to the West. Still, there is only one oil pipeline connecting China and Russia.
This example makes clear why China will continue to look in all directions, not only concerning oil and gas but in all sectors of trade.
But today we also face a new situation: At a meeting of the Henry Jackson Society on 10th November 2011, Dr John Lee, Adjunct Associate Professor at the Centre for International Security Studies, Sydney University, points out that the coexistence of a strong China, India, Japan and the USA at the same time has never been possible in history until now. He also states that China, even though it is the most important trading partner for Japan, South Korea, Australia and other countries, is also deeply feared by those countries as they are afraid of the government’s unpredictability. It seems to them that the communist party is increasingly less transparent, which hinders negotiations and communication. As has been said before, the Chinese military is feared as well as it becomes more and more autonomous.
India on the other hand is not a feared partner but a well accepted one. It is certainly not as important as China – it is not even in the Top10 of the most important trading partners of most of the countries stated – but as relationships with China worsen, countries try to strengthen their ties with India. But why is that? First of all, India is a more reliable partner as it accepts international rules of politics and communication. Lee states that India has no interest in expanding its zone of influence but it is content with the borders currently in place. Compared to China, there is also in general less emphasis on the history of the country which means the Indians do not see themselves as victims and do not blame others for historic injustices. This approach has also led to the rise of a younger generation which is being more open towards other nations and international cooperation.
Most countries are thus favorable of India’s rise as it also a question of preferring the rise of a democratic country over a nation under an authoritarian regime, Lee argues. The US is very reluctant to let a non-democratic power such as China emerge which explains the preference for India. Moreover, India does not push for its rise – for example it puts less focus on exports but the economic growth happens more naturally as the country has the technology and the people to facilitate growth. It does not aspire to become a highly influential superpower or to challenge the current international order.
Lee thus concludes that India will, in spite of internal problems such as infrastructure, rise to be an important global economic player. China’s rise on the other hand might continue in the future but with its growth, unrest and dissatisfaction with its current international status will also increase. This might be an outlook that is painting a very black picture for China but we will have to see in what way both countries will develop.
Annemarie Ulbrich, Editor Germany, World Security Network Foundation, is currently enrolled at the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany, where she is pursuing a Master of European Studies programme specialising in European Culture and Politics.