Monday, April 16, 2012

What will China's rise mean for Europe?

For the past few decades we are witnessing a transformation on the global politics and a slow shift of power towards the East. With western economies declining and being in recession, opportunities arose for new economic powerhouses on the planet, one of them being China; the most populous country of the world, a land with an ancient history and culture and of course with a lot of potential.

One would think why so far China was not already a global superpower; well there are many reasons for that, mainly internal. But now the Chinese are embracing capitalism, they are playing the westerners' game, and they are good at that. So inevitably America and Europe are afraid of China challenging their hegemony.

China has larger population than Europe and America combined and a massive landmass with lots of resources. It is a serious contestant in foreign policy in Asia, but they also infiltrating Africa, a region that was traditionally under European control. Is this going to bring Europe and China in a headlock? Well potentially yes, but it does not have to be as dramatic as the media appear it to be. We are supposed to be allies with America but we are also their competitors. Does that stop us from closely cooperate with them?

Europeans have invested heavily in China all those years, and recently the Chinese are doing the same in Europe. They bought the Piraeus port in Greece, they are building car factories in Bulgaria and they are investing in Ireland too, as well as in many other EU countries.

I support foreign investments, but I am also wary of them. Our leaders tend to rely solely on them and they are becoming lazy. Yes it is great to attract foreign investments from other countries and multinational companies, but you must use the income of funds to invest and create a sustainable growth and economy; for when the time comes for those companies to relocate elsewhere, somewhere more profitable. Because that is what those companies do; they are searching for the best and most profitable destination and as competition out there is fierce, investments can flow for some years and then relocate in another country with cheaper workforce.

So what do you do? Once you better the living conditions of your population and their salaries go higher, those investors will possibly leave your country. But if you have used their money wisely all those years that they have been investing in your state, then you can establish home grown industries and technologies. And in some cases you maybe become investor in other poorer countries; the trouble is that some leader's are so corrupt that instead of doing this, they are absorbing those funds for personal use, or to perpetuate their rule in their countries.

The other side-effect I fear, is that once you allow others to invest in your country then inevitably you are allowing them to influence your internal and external affairs and policies. In order for someone to invest huge amount of money in you, you got in return to play by their rules in some key areas that interests them. So if the Chinese are investing in many EU countries, and with no real unity in most policy areas among them (as we have seen many times) can the Chinese "play one against each other" later on? In other words, can China, as America was doing all those years, influence European politics indirectly?

Of course they can, and they will. We have been doing it in Europe and other regions of the world for our benefit. The key issue though here is, that if Europe is truly united, there is little we have to fear from this development and we can use it for our benefit. Besides, China has a great interest in Europe, and we have asked their assistance to deal with the eurozone crisis recently: so we are already close partners in a way. We need them as much as they need us and they know it.

I personally welcome China’s rise, but of course we in Europe need to stand united when dealing with them. They are after all (still) the most populous country in the world, and individual European countries of around 10 or 20 million each-never mind the smaller ones, have a clear disadvantage. With a Europe of half a billion though, things are different. Besides, isn't that the main reason of European integration; to counterpart the rising challenges from the continuous changes that are taking place, with the emergence of new markets and economic powerhouses on the planet.

We are seeing countries like China, Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa, the so called BRICS entering the economic landscape of our world. I welcome the rise of these new economies, to break the monopoly of the West notably America. Europe has been their lap dog since WW2, and we barely have foreign policies of our own, if America says otherwise. Their influence over Europe is economic, cultural, political and social. They have influenced our lives and public opinion through their movies, products, press, TV channels and programs, but also dragged us in many wars for their benefit only. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are mainly based on America's foreign policy and interests with almost all of Europe involved, with exchange of money, investments from America and other "favors" which I dread to imagine what they are!

Europe is in a way obliged to support America in almost everything and in the case of China, America fears their potential challenge on military supremacy. Their interests in the Pacific that they had monopoly since WW2 are important to them, as well as supporting their vessel states of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. Especially over the last one, there is a real concern for a future conflict. So Europe weakens China's military development, or at least is postponing in with its arms embargo. I personally do not see why Europe must get at odds with other countries or regions to safeguard America's favoritism and influence. Why do we have to get in odds with China, in order to favor America? We have been doing the same with Russia and our relations are on a roller-coaster. It could have been different if we had a more independent foreign policy.

Allegedly America is "protecting" us from the threat of Russia, China, Iran and the Islamic one. But if Europe was allowed to develop its own military defense that would not be necessary. Besides there are many in America that do not want to "protect" Europe at "their expense" and as for Russia I do not think they are a real threat anymore, as long as we do not get in their nostrils and side always with America.  Like China they have a great interest in us as we are their primary oil and gas consumer. Why destroy us? We could still be allies with USA but that should not mean being their lap dog.

I wish to see a multi-polar world and break the monopoly of the Americans and the three main European powers (Germany-France-Britain).  Then the world will be more equal and fair in my opinion. But only if Europe unites in some sort. If not, then we are going to be just a play-field and chess-mat for the big players of the future, like China, Russia, America. We are going to be a profitable market for them so they can trade, sell their goods and become richer. But we will have no real influence in the world or towards those superpowers! How can you safeguard your interests like that?

If we have more countries, or block of countries competing with America and Europe, not in an ideological field like we used to have with the USSR and communism, but rather in innovation, development, finances, military and politics, we will have more voices in this world. America and the rich European elite countries won't have the monopoly in this world and its resources, thus we will have more democracy and equality in our planet. If Brazil in South America, China and India in Asia, South Africa in Africa, together with other economic blocks like ASEAN, MERCOSUR, AU and so on get more say, then the established western powers can not behave irresponsibly, arrogantly or like bullies as they have been doing for some time now. They will have strong opposition and this can be for our benefit too. Because small European countries also suffer from the monopolies of America, Britain, France and Germany.

The emergence of China, might be good for the smaller European states; because if the big powers of Europe wish to compete with them, they might be forced to form an ever closer union between us, and speak with one voice to the world. In other words, include all the smaller states in the effort to start being more competitive, taking initiatives and having a voice in the world scene. That could mean that Europe can become like America, a kind of federation that living standards can be of the same level everywhere with the same opportunities for prosperity all over the continent.

Or it could be for the worse, if the European elites wish to replace the cheap production of the Chinese workforce by creating a two tier Europe; the rich north and the poor south, with lower wages and weaker economies. The poorer states will do what the Chinese were doing until now, work to produce cheap goods for the rich states. There are many that fear this, especially in the hardest hit by the current crisis states in EU like Greece and Spain and other southern European countries. Is that what the current economic crisis will lead to? Not necessarily, not if the smaller states start taking a united stand against the three European powers and take initiatives within EU.

There are those who claim that salaries will be cut all over Europe, so that Europe can start producing again and attract investors with lower salaries for its citizens, to compete with China. What started in Greece they say, will spread all over Europe; Greece is just the "guinea pig" and the beginning. All European countries will follow sooner or later. Nevertheless it is obvious that these are certainly indications that life for a worker in Europe will be very different in the future because of the competition rising from China. Perhaps it was about time for us to get a kick up the back-side and stop relying on bubble economies and the markets and re-industrialize our countries.

There is of course the threat and possibility of war between all of the current and emerging powers. But haven't we been in a constant war anyway? Especially America and its European allies. Over a decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a brewing conflict with Iran just to safeguard America's interests. Perhaps if there were more military powers to threaten America, they would not go to war as easily in the first place.

To conclude, the rise of China certainly brings many challenges for Europe in the future, but one thing is certain: we can not keep blocking other regions from prospering and developing. We can not afford the effort and we can not keep dragging the development of the human kind all on our own; we need to bring others on board. Besides, it is only ethical to do so. There will be certain challenges that will come with this, but we can definitely  get over them if we accept the fact that we have to face the future in some form of union or federation. Europe must start speaking with one voice in the world. Keep holding on to old imperial and nationalist complexes, is not the way forward; learn to still be a national of an ethnic group while belonging in a international political entity I believe is the way forward. We do not want to lose our identity, nobody wishes so. But democracy can exist in a European or international level if only you allow it, believe it, support it and work for it.

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