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Introduction

Since the end of the Cold War, a bi-polar world has become mono-polar but may be in the process of being transformed into a multi-polar world or, preferably, a multilateral one. Globalisation and rapid scientific and technological advancements are drastically transforming international relations. Although political ideology is no longer a driving force, it takes a generation or two to eliminate recent dogma, prejudices and perceptions. Regional cooperation and development have become important factors. The three bilateral relationships, EU-US, EU-PRC and US-PRC, also interact with other bilateral relationships, and countries such as Russia, Japan and India have to be taken into account, as well as other rising powers in Asia and South America.

The world faces more major common challenges than ever before, including eradicating poverty, international terrorism, nuclear proliferation, uncontrolled immigration, climate change and environmental degradation, energy security, and managing globalisation. A renewed world governance system is a pre-condition to successfully meeting these challenges.

China, the US and the EU are together responsible for one-third of the world’s population, over three-quarters of the world economy, over 90% of total military expenditure and four of the five permanent seats on the UN Security Council. Sadly, however, there remains a vast lacuna in the knowledge and mutual understanding between the Chinese and Westerners and still surprisingly too great between Americans and Europeans. China, the US and the EU have very considerable influence. Apart, conflicting influences are very damaging. We live inan increasingly dangerous world and it is critically important for all three therefore to act as responsible stakeholders, if we are to secure a more stable and peaceful world, and set an example to others. But what does this involve?

Obviously, the US is economically, technologically and militarily the most powerful of the China-EU-US triangle. However, its Iraq escapade has led to a substantial decline in influence. American desires to shape the global destiny and order cannot be fulfilled alone.

The EU is the world’s major ‘soft power’. Much of its influence derives from its achievement in bucking history by succeeding with peaceful integration. However, it is still having great difficulty in forging a common foreign and security policy.

The PRC is a re-emerging country in the midst of a remarkable period of rapid and sustained economic development and yet remains a developing country. This expansion has so far been achieved with comparatively little social disturbance, but the extent to which its present political structure will allow the building of an “harmonious society” remains to be seen, particularly in the light of the substantial economic inequality between the western and eastern provinces, and between urban and agricultural areas.

Shared values are conducive to working together but self-interest is more likely to be the driving factor. This paper does not attempt the unenviable task of comparing our identities and values as such, except to say that we all share one value: hypocrisy! It must also be borne in mind that government attitudes and decisions are influenced by short-term domestic political expediency.

Three bilateral relationships

While history, traditional values, cultural roots, similarity of language and political thinking still tie Europe and the United States together, and this is by far the most important bilateral relationship they both have, there has been a drifting apart since 2001, brought to ahead by, but not limited to the Bush factor. However, the intensity and scope of the EU-US economic interdependence and their global economic influence remains remarkable.

European and American approaches to foreign policy have not always been in tandem but the divergence has been striking under George W Bush’s presidency. The much-heralded EU common foreign & security policy (CFSP) is still a long way off. However, with the right team (European Council President, Foreign Policy Chief and Commission President) taking office in 2009 (after the Lisbon Treaty comes into effect), we could see a more assertive Union, which might also lead to increased transatlantic political tension.

China and the EU are currently negotiating a long-term Partnership & Cooperation Agreement, the intention of which is to consolidate a relationship which is all-embracing, economically, politically and socially; and both bilaterally and globally. Such a ‘strategic’ partnership must be based on common interests, if not common values, and the parties must be clear about their objectives. It can only be built on the basis of mutual trust, respect and understanding, and the most important challenge is how to build such elements to provide a solid foundation for the relationship.

Relations between China and the US are more complicated. After all, they saw themselves as enemies during the Cold War and remain wary of each other. The US both wants and fears a stable and developed China, but ‘containment’ is always on Washington’s mind. Until 9/11, China was increasingly seen as a suitable ‘new enemy’ by the White House.

There are still tensions within the US Administration over how to handle China’s rapid emergence: to some extent, the expression of differing views may relate to Washington keeping open its options or ‘hedging’. While both Europe and the US see China as an economic threat, many in Washington also see China as a future security threat, and indeed a possible strategic enemy. However, everyone recognises that we face common threats.

In each of the three bilateral relationships there exists a mechanism intended to enable the parties both to take a longer term economic perspective and to cooperate on shorter-term measures. Thus:

The prime object of the Transatlantic Economic Council is to oversee joint efforts to lower barriers to trade and investment between the EU and US.

The Strategic Economic Dialogue is intended to provide an overarching framework for ongoing productive bilateral economic dialogues and future economic relations between the US and PRC.

The Economic & Trade Dialogue will discuss strategies in EU-China trade, investment and economic cooperation and coordinate bilateral projects, studies and develop plans in priority sectors.

These three bilateral approaches should be coordinated as they broadly address the same subjects. A starting point could be a joint meeting of the Strategic Economic Dialogue and the Economic & Trade Dialogue.

One trilateral relationship

A trilateral relationship is clearly desirable but is it possible?

In the short-term, the question is how to avoid the EU and US competing in their relations with China and China attempting to divide and rule them. Or put more positively, will the three seek common solutions to common problems and shun balance of power games? These questions are more easily posed than answered. The type of strategic thinking and pragmatism that enabled the US and Europe to rebuild post-war Europe is required. There is no consensus either in Europe nor the US on an overall strategy towards China. American and European domestic constituencies vary considerably. The US is essentially a hard power and Europe a soft one.

Concern has been expressed in Washington that the intensification of China-EU political relations reflects a mutual intent to create a multipolar world to counter US influence. Many Chinese and Europeans would welcome this but it would make no sense to weaken EU-US or indeed China-US relations. Beijing insists that it seeks a harmonised China within a harmonised world: China’s integration in that world is regarded as essential for its leaders, both because of their policy and because they seek respect and legitimacy

President Hu Jintao’s April 2006 visit to the United States was more successful in the state of Washington, among business leaders than in Washington DC, among political leaders. Congress has been in a threatening mood in relation to alleged unfair Chinese trade practices as well as the value of the rimimbi. So far, the US Treasury has resisted naming China as a ‘currency manipulator’ and this is unlikely to happen under the stewardship of Hank Paulson.

However, it has increasingly used trade measures, including countervailing duties and WTO complaints. Finally, Washington is highly critical of China’s increasing military expenditure, notwithstanding that it amounts to a fraction of that of the US. Greater transparency by Beijing over its defence budget could help deflect this criticism.

The fundamental question is: should China be treated as a strategic rival or a strategic partner? There was a clear tendency during George W Bush’s first term to see China as the former, thinking in terms of containment and maintaining a balance of power: Europe inclines towards the latter. European worries must not be underestimated but the underlying tendency is to work towards fully integrating China into world politics and economics, expecting reciprocity in return.

Chris (Lord) Patten, last Governor of Hong Kong and former EU Commissioner responsible for China, once dubbed by Beijing “criminal of a thousand years”, said in his very readable book “Not Quite The Diplomat” that the “best way of encouraging China to behave responsibly… is to treat China as a responsible partner and to draw her into multilateral relationships and the growing network of international rules and regulations.”

However, negative perceptions of the PRC are increasing: viz media coverage of Tibet riots, protectionist reactions against cheap Chinese imports and concern over sometimes clumsy suppression of freedoms (media, internet, Falun Gong…).

Present western attitudes towards China are likely to influence China’s future attitude and it is essential that trust be shown, even without any guarantee of reciprocity. Treating someone as your enemy is frequently a self-fulfilling prophecy. No-one can anticipate the composition or policies of future Chinese leaders, but they will have had more exposure to the West during their formative years than the present generation. The hope is that the fifth generation leaders, who will be elected in 2012, will not carry the baggage of the Cultural Revolution on their shoulders. Such leaders will find it easier to work with Europe and the United States.

Differences

There are important cultural differences which affect American and European attitudes internationally. Generalisations must be treated with caution but it is fair to say that Europeans tend to have a greater knowledge of other countries’ histories and cultures than Americans, due both to the European colonial past and also to the size and location of the United States.

It is important that westerners increase their understanding of Chinese history, culture and psychology – China’s history stretches back over 4 000 years and, for eight out of the last 10 centuries the country had the biggest economy in the world. The encroachments of Western powers of France, Germany, Japan, Russia, the UK and US on Chinese sovereignty took place during the last 150 years with the Opium Wars, the Nanjing and other “Unequal Treaties”, the ceding of territory such as Hong Kong and other national humiliations, culminating in the 1900 invasion by the Eight-Nation Alliance (Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the US) leading to China having to sign the unequal Boxer Protocol of 1901. China is currently a developing country but its emergence is in fact a re-emergence: that makes a big difference.

Europeans tend to see issues in shades of grey, rather than in black and white. Being less religious than Americans, they are also less inclined to judge in terms of rights and wrongs. Our history also encourages multilateralism.

We – at least continental Europeans – have an abhorrence of war, as well as a propensity to live alongside those with opposing views. War is seen as a very last resort. A more pertinent question is whether Europe can be a successful soft power without having sufficient hard power. Former Secretary of State, George Shultz, spoke for many when he said: “Negotiations are a euphemism for capitulation if the shadow of power is not cast across the bargaining table.”

European military power does not compare with that of the United States. Nor do our citizens wish to see any increase in expenditure. The focus is on soft power. Some detractors assert that this is because we do not have the military might. The truth is that European citizens do not seek this military power and are more comfortable in the use of soft power.

It should be said in passing that Europe’s military strength would be far greater were there to be efficient procurement cooperation (an aim of the European Defence Agency). Europe would in any case have a very substantial influence in the world if its national leaders pooled their egotism in the Union and forge a common, if not a single, foreign policy. The Union should concentrate on what it does well, namely peacekeeping (and probably peacemaking) and society rebuilding; and the Member States should re-deploy their defence expenditure to produce more effective results.

However, a common European foreign policy seems still to be far away, notwithstanding that according to several public opinion polls, a comfortable majority of Europeans support this goal and the creation of an EU foreign policy . All this having been said, European and American objectives are often the same but the means are very different.

China, the EU and the US are facing globalisation and new challenges together but do not always realise the commonalities of these challenges. Growing mutual coexistence in the post-cold war era calls for new concepts, new fields and new ways of cooperation.

Limits of nation state

The competence of nation states in controlling national affairs has been declining and the influence of non-state actors, such as NGOs and trans-national businesses, increasing. Boundaries of states have become blurred while poverty penetrates national safety nets. As even Donald Rumsfeld, then US Defence Secretary, told the Council on Foreign Relations in New York: “There is nothing important in the world that we [the US] can do alone.”

However, it is still states that lead us into war, although we must not overlook the ‘privatisation’ of force. We are slowly moving towards multilateral governance, and the greater use of soft power and the international rule of law. The EU is becoming state-like with a currency and the rudiments of an army. Relations between major players are growing unpredictably, becoming interdependent and mutually constrained while still upholding national interests. Europe supports regionalisation to which Washington only pays lip service.

There is increased national motivation in the West and also protectionism (‘economic nationalism’), local and national interest thinking. Reaction to globalisation is manifold: elites think globally while ordinary people think locally. Less educated and less mobile citizens tend to be more conservative, nationalistic and protectionist. But globalisation is a reality and cannot be halted; at best there can be limited management. Our citizens need to be informed of this. There are inevitably individual winners and losers but planning can reduce the negative impact on the losers. Trade must be made fairer and not just freer. Although protectionism is ‘alive and kicking’ in several European countries, the Union’s exclusive competence in trade policy keeps it in check, whereas the US Congress answers to itself.

Many million people live in failed and failing states. An international mechanism needs to be developed to address the problem, but there is as yet no consensus on definition, norms or solutions. However, failed states lead to conflict and trilateral cooperation is an urgent need. A question that requires addressing is whether globalisation causes states to fail or some states fail because they reject globalisation.

But we Chinese, Europeans and Americans do not have a common vision on the direction of world development, nor have we reached consensus on the desired direction of such development. We each see different principal challenges: Americans – terrorism, the Chinese – Taiwanese separatists, and the Europeans -losing jobs. We are each trying to link our own restructuring challenges at home with those of the international system but it is difficult to find a common denominator.

Differences in understanding

There are differences in understanding. The Chinese resent the arms embargo, the lack of market economy status, pressure on the exchange rate and the imbalance of international powers; Westerners see China as having fragile economic and social balances; a lack of democracy, human rights and the rule of law; weakness in responding to regional and international security issues; and a disturbing African policy, funding states without conditionality. While Europe only sees China as an economic threat, Americans see it also as a military threat. Maybe even more fundamental is that Americans tend to see China as part of the problem. As Peter Mandelson said at Tsingua University on 7 November 2006, “In a nutshell – and this is the core of my remarks – you could identify any global problem we face and you will find that China is an essential part of the solution, with a role in framing the international agenda and assuming new leadership responsibilities as it does.”

We must together look at the global context and the amount of common ground there is in the way we see the world. Only then can we consider the trilateral relationship and the extent which we can cooperate long-term and strategically. We have to face the problem of globalisation and constant change and the growth of supra- and sub-nationality organisms both in the public and private sectors. We must take into account rising and declining powers, regionalism, common threats and interests, and the democracy/non-democracy divide, and to what extent NATO will go global.

What events are likely to shape the world? Globalisation really came into its own in 1989. All three polities are deeply involved in and benefit from globalisation: Only weak and failing states are outside globalisation. We are all tied together in a global interconnecting world. Travel to China: buying a ticket, the aircraft, the pilot, mail…- all these are international and trusted by millions without their realising.

Globalisation inevitable

Even if the Doha trade round were dead, globalisation is not. International threats are threats to national prosperity and security. The economic success of each of the three is vital to the others. Increased interest in bilateral trade agreements is inevitable with the lack of a successful conclusion to the Doha round must be channelled to ensure that regionalism is a force working towards and not against multilateralism. Agreements need to be free trade agreements and not preferential or discriminatory. We appear to be in peaceful transition towards one world with several regional powers, but the situation is not static, with the rise of other powers.

Effective global institutions are needed to cope with people’s needs and today’s global problems. The United Nations must be radically reformed.

Terrorism is a common threat. It does not necessarily flow from the more assertive conduct of Muslims, but is clearly linked to the growth of Islamic fundamentalist extremism. Religion is relevant to world politics. There are around 20 million Muslims in Europe and at least 50% more in the PRC, many of whom feel excluded and discriminated against. Islamic terrorism can only be conquered from within Muslim communities and our policies must be directed at achieving this.

Sovereignty

This brings us directly to the issue of sovereignty. The EU is based on the sharing of sovereignty, turning its back on balance of power politics. In a globalised world, there are many agents: MNCs, NGOs, terrorists, international criminals…Attitudes are changing towards sovereignty, which has lost its virginity in China and the US (eg WTO disputes mechanism). Can China’s determination to be integrated into world community be achieved without concessions on sovereignty?

A relationship between the world’s hegemon, its largest integrated trading polity and its largest developing country carries a significance beyond the parties themselves, affecting other regional and indeed global relationships and order. Of the three components, the China-US relationship is potentially the most combative.

Finally, there are clear differences in the respective approaches to political reform in China. Beijing’s focus is on economic and social reform. There are divided views within the CCP as to the extent and pace of political reform. The US policy objective is to spread democracy. Europeans, however, do not see democracy and elections as the objective but rather as the means to deliver a stable society and shudder at the idea of a “League of Democracies” as proposed by John McCain, inspired by Robert Kagan.

How do we build between the US and China and Europe and China the degree of mutual trust that exists between Europe and the US, despite the differences? Much mistrust is based on misunderstanding. Relevant factors are also different values, divergent interests (noting that in foreign policy, values and interests are often confused), ideological differences and a belief that the other acts in its own interests. Trust comes from working together over a long period. Effective working together is facilitated by mutual understanding, which is seriously lacking between China on the one hand and the EU and US on the other. Misperceptions abound, the best example of which is how the Tibet issue and the Dalai Lama are seen.

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 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.

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