Stanley's blog

“In the coming 20 years, China-US-EU relationship will decide the trend of international relations” (Zbigniew Brzezinski: c 2004)

It is timely to review the state of the three bilateral relationships and the prospects for the trilateral relationship, following the 17th Party Congress, the PRC-EU November 2007 Summit, the Third US-China Strategic Economic Dialogue (SED) in December 2007, the first High Level EU-PRC Economic & Trade Dialogue in April 2008 and the opening of the Obama/McCann Presidential contest, a prelude to the end of the George W Bush era.

I have published a long paper which argues that a strong trilateral relationship, reinforced by three strong bilateral relationships is essential. If you do not want to read the entire paper, here is the penultimate section which summarises the main reasons why we need a trilateral relationship, and indicates what a trilateral relationship can and cannot achieve:

Trilateral relationship

Here are some reasons why we need a trilateral relationship:

  • The three polities all face the same major challenges and these can only be resolved globally.
  • Both China and the EU are emerging ‘soft’ world powers and together with the US are going to shape the world in the future.
  • Balance of power and zero-sum games are unwise and in many cases not relevant to the new global challenges.
  • There is one global market and the three leading players are mutually interdependent, and they must therefore find ways of working
    together rather than separately, or one against the other two.
  • The three polities have fundamentally common strategic interests in peace and development.
  • The triangle is thus not multi-polar but multilateral. In the age of globalisation, ‘balance of power’ should be replaced by ‘sharing of power’.
  • Only when we work together, can we determine in what direction we moving.

What a trilateral relationship cannot achieve:

  • We do not necessarily share common legacies and methods. For example, the Chinese have learned from their own history that intervention is not welcome and may be detrimental to the long-term development of the countries concerned and in most cases sanctions do not work. Europe believes that the international community has a duty to intervene in certain limited circumstances and with UN approval. The US believes in its unilateral right to intervene, in certain limited circumstances, without UN approval.
  • The close institutionalised cooperation which exists in transatlantic relations does not exist with China.
  • We do not all face the same immediate security and development challenges.

What a trilateral relationship can achieve:

  • Economic and monetary cooperation.
  • Shaping the world together with each other and with the other players.
  • Learning from each other’s development models and learning to respect each other.
  • Casting a new light on global issues such as poverty alleviation, pandemic disease control, better use of natural resources, climate change, and even a global information society.
  • ‘Fair play’ in international trade with rules better to suit us all in our different development stages.
  • Encouraging our own businesses and NGOs to be more responsive international players.
  • Finding more areas for cooperation and begin to create a new common culture.
  • Promoting mutual understanding in all sectors and at all levels.
  • Promoting regional and global security.
  • Strengthening international cooperation and global governance.

Mutuality is at the root of any such relationship. In addition to a long-term programme to promote mutual understanding, it is essential that the intergovernmental relationships be underpinned by the building of three interlinked participatory societies. These relationships are too important to leave totally in the hands of politicians and officials. The think-tank & academic communities, business and civil society must all play an active role

Conclusion

The China-US, China-Europe and US-Europe relationships are arguably the three most important geopolitical and economic relationships in the world. This does not mean that Russia, Japan, India or Brazil should be ignored. But it is in everyone’s interests that multilateralism be built on the solid foundation of the triangle. This will require ongoing efforts by all concerned, with particular attention paid to potential Sino-American volatility. The successful development of China is in the global interest. A failed China would have frightening consequences. It is essential, therefore, that there be a strong trilateral relationship, reinforced by three strong bilateral relationships. From time to time there should be trilateral meetings as there are in fact three sets of bilateral working groups that address more or less the same issues, beginning with the Transatlantic Economic Council, the High Level EU-PRC Economic & Trade Dialogue and the US-China Strategic Economic Dialogue.

Read the full paper here.

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Comments

  1. I totally agree with all your arguments, although I fail to see why the multilateralism you are advocating as normative background cannot be applied to a multilateral system of polities, and just to the Big 3.. why not Big 4, Big 5, etc. The argument remains essentially the same.

  2. Dear Stanley,

    I have just lost what I wrote since I am lagged behind modern tech. I wanted to say that the article is inspiring and useful, that I am tight with a book and a huge research, and I like to return to this trialetaral discussion soon, but feel now that the methods are important since they determine directions.

    Congratulations again to your blog, it looks fashionable.

    Hong

  3. Corina: the two are not mutually exclusive. Muntilateralism involves all countries. But the concept must be sold to our American friend first.

    Hong: thanks for your flattering comment

  4. It is foreseeable that if any concrete action ought to be initiated by the President-elect Obama, maybe a more serious decision making meeting should include only four key representatives from the US, China, Russia, and India. Albeit the EU French presidency effort to assert European unity, the German, French and UK positions are not really aligned.

    At stake is the world order that emerged after the two twentieth century world wars. The unconditional helm of the world leadership had passed from the British Empire to the United States of America that consolidated it in the United Nations triangle of power: Security Council (five veto powers); International Monetary Fund (US$ pegged system with governance recognizing the US primacy); The World Bank (a Western-centred multilateral and conditional financial aid mechanism).

    Abstract from my article “2008: financial or breakdown crisis? New world geopolitics under way”: http://www.webeehive.com/2008-financial-or-breakdown-crisis_.html

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