SINOGRAPH Fading Europe aids China's US ties
By Francesco Sisci
BEIJING - The day before the start of the strategic dialogue between China and
America, on July 27, Beijing released the news that President Hu Jintao had
sent his Taiwanese counterpart, Ma Ying-jiu, a telegram applauding his election
as the ruling party (Kuomintang, KMT) chief. It was the first direct
communication between the rival leaders.
Chinese strategists think that, in a nutshell, the controversy between China
and the United States can be reduced to the issue of Taiwan. Certainly, China
and the US have and will have many points of friction, including clashes on
trade, economics and human rights, but none is as relevant and burning as that
Taiwan, which has preserved its de facto independence for decades thanks to
If the US does not sponsor what Beijing calls "splittist" activities, but
conversely favors a peaceful solution to the Taiwan issue, there should be no
more major strategic issues with China. On the contrary, Beijing would be
grateful to Washington for its role in creating a peaceful resolution with
A solution to the Taiwan issue is not quite there - many details have to be
resolved. However, in recent months, with the Ma Ying-jiu presidency, there
have been many steps forward. There have been so many that even the formerly
pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party made contact with Beijing
directly, signaling an end to its former hostilities with the mainland.
In Washington, the first round of dialogue with Beijing was successful. The two
sides agreed that there were positive achievements in the economic dialogue,
although progress on concrete bilateral trade and economic issues was limited.
Most importantly, American President Barack Obama saluted the beginning of the
dialogue as the one relationship that could provide a major framework for peace
and development in this century.
China, America’s largest creditor with almost US$2.2 trillion of reserves, has
the largest say among foreign countries in the destiny of the greenback. In
America, many economists reckon that a devaluation of the dollar could improve
the overall balance of banks and credit institutions and could help the country
to get out of its present financial crisis.
China is scared of a possible dollar devaluation, which would devalue its
dollar-denominated assets. However, even this possibly major source of friction
can be avoided. In almost-bankrupt California, Republican senatorial candidate
Bill Mundell says that dollar devaluation could be limited if the state were to
privatize public assets to replenish its coffers. This plan could be extended
nationwide and help turn around the crisis, argues Mundell - something that
would be welcomed by China and could draw the two countries even closer
In any event, this is a dialogue between America and China, with a role for
Japan, the world's second-largest creditor. Europe is out of the picture
because it has no major dollar holdings.
Strategically, China has leverage with North Korea and Iran, the two major
flashpoints of global politics. And China has a major interest in the stability
of neighboring Afghanistan. Europe as a whole and individual European countries
have limited or no leverage over Iran and North Korea, and despite their troops
in Afghanistan, Central Asia is very far and remote from their interests.
Furthermore, China’s economy will most likely grow in the coming decades - and
so will its political power. Therefore, Europe’s relative gravitas in both
global affairs and American issues will proportionately decrease.
The euro is a very important currency, and it will remain so for many years.
However, without a political head, it is bound to remain little more than an
instrument of trade. Furthermore, the European Union is without a united
foreign or defense policy, and thus collaboration on military campaigns is
bound to remain negotiated by the US on a country-by-country basis, while the
EU's overall might won’t massively increase. In other words, European
countries' participation could grow more cumbersome and less essential in the
Certainly, many countries will keep their niches. Germany and the northern
countries will hold on to their specialization in mechanics; Britain will be
one of the centers of finance and higher education; France will dictate the
standard for bon ton and good wines; Italy will remain some kind of
open-air amusement park with good food and good weather; and the Iberian
Peninsula will continue to be the picturesque European projection of Latin
America. All of these things are of keen interest but realistically out of the
big game - although few will admit it, out of politeness and memory of the old
These trends are surely not set in stone, and they can be reversed and changed
by setting in motion different trends. But to do it, Europe should develop its
own unified Asia policy, set its own priorities and learn to have one voice on
the euro and European defense strategy. However, there are no signs that Europe
or individual European countries are realizing their incumbent marginalization
- and even less showing any sign of reaction to it.
If that were to occur, the whole geopolitical game would take a very different
spin. Europe is after all still the largest trading power in the world, but it
is a gigantic hydra with no legs and 25 heads. Will European governments take
the hint from the US-China dialogue and see that they have to move now because
in five or 10 years it will be too late? It is unlikely.
No single government is willing to cede power to Brussels or other fellow
European governments. There is not even a single official language for Europe
or European citizens. Brussels speaks a Babel of 25 languages and interpreters
are mostly useful in light of some Keynesian scheme for useless jobs. If a
single European party were to speak on behalf of unity, it would not know in
which language to start. Curiously for the unreligious EU, extra-learned
Catholic Curia priests, proficient in a dozen languages, would be the only
officials able to talk to almost all Europeans.
In fact, the case for unity is useless, but yet present institutions do
something positive: they check and constrain the political movements and
agendas of single countries. In this way, European countries have the worst of
both worlds. They don't have enough unity to move as one, and yet they have too
much unity to each move alone. If they were alone, each could at least develop
its own strengths. Yet, it is very hard to see European countries shaking their
This absence has been there for a long time - so long that we find it no longer
relevant. However, this absence will give an extra boost to US-China ties. For
both countries, there is no one else that will be as politically attractive or
interesting as the other for the next 50 years. Even if Europe takes just 10
years to wake up, it may be too late to unravel the strong relationship that
will have developed between the US and China in this decade.
In the end, the absence of Europe could be the yeast of trans-Pacific ties -
the gluing factor, like the absence of air - between the US and China.