chapter  1
14 Pages

Pathways towards a new world order: China’s challenge to the European Union


This book is focused on the implications of China’s economic rise for the cities and regions of Europe.1 Many readers will therefore think it odd that I should give a political twist to this topic by introducing the term world order. In my view, Europe lacks coherent meaning except in a political sense, and if you agree with this, then the question immediately presents itself: in the decades ahead, what sort of Union is capable of responding effectively to the multiple challenges that China’s emergence as a global power will pose for the world? Although primarily a question for the European Union, it is also, and in a broader sense, a question about the kind of world we need as a political framework for the actions that Europe’s cities and regions will have to take if they wish to take up this challenge. A wave of the hand in the direction of globalization is not enough. Allow me to summarize the gist of this chapter in a few words. At present, we live in a uni-polar world in which the United States of America is the unchallenged global hegemon. Having no check on its own power, the US sees itself as a law unto itself or, to be more precise, as standing above the law of nations. Unchecked, it can and unfortunately does act as it will, intervening in world affairs according to its own understanding of its collective interests. China’s rising economic power is perceived by the global hegemon as a threat to its own unrestricted power, as a competitor for world domination. Projecting into the future, China’s growing economic power will inevitably convert into political and military power as well, thus re-creating the bi-polar world that we lived through for the half-century when American confronted Soviet power, and the Cold War was construed as a contest that in the long run only one side could win. It was also a contest that, time and again, brought us to the edge of nuclear Armageddon. In the end, it was the internal collapse of the Soviet Union that led to the uni-polar world of today which, insofar as it is effectively challenged by China, is an unsustainable world order. But as experience has taught us, a bi-polar world is a dangerous world capable of erupting into a full-scale global war at any time. It follows that a multi-polar world of great powers promises stability. In the foreseeable future, there are only two potential centres of power capable of exercising restraint on the global hegemon and its principal competitor, China. The first is the European

Union, the second is India. With a projected population of 1.5 billion by midcentury, the Indian federation will be the largest country in the world, its economy growing apace, albeit at a slower rate than China’s. As a functioning liberal democracy, India is already the world’s largest but appears to have little interest in seeking global power. Its primary aim is political stability in South Asia, a region over which its influence extends. India will thus perforce have a key role in helping to shape a new world order geared to peace and prosperity. But in the remainder of my chapter, I will say no more on this subject. My primary focus here is Europe or, more precisely, the European Union. At the present time, the EU is a hybrid of what are respectively called intergovernmentalism and supra-nationalism. The constitutional project of the EU which would have strengthened its supra-national aspect was rejected by France and Holland in public referenda and has been put on hold, perhaps to be revived some day in a new form. At the moment, therefore, the EU’s inter-governmental aspect predominates as it tries to coordinate the economic affairs of its 25 – soon to be 27 – member states. An important economic entity, the EU is a huge potential market for the world. But its economic growth is placid at present, and its energies are currently stretched to the limit by the commitments, including financial ones, to integrate the 12 new member states into the Union and to work towards eliminating the huge economic (and cultural) disparities that characterize the enlarged Union. Even so, as a prime economic power in the world, the European Union is strategically located to become, if it chooses to play its hand, a third political pole in the world, capable of restraining the remaining world powers while taking its own initiatives. Another element, however, is still missing for the completion of a multi-polar world-order model. The model I propose is informed by a world-systems perspective which, following Immanuel Wallerstein, classifies world regions into three categories: core, periphery, and semi-periphery. So far, I have addressed only the question of the three major core regions comprising the global system at present, the US (the global hegemon), China (the principal challenger for global leadership), and the European Union (a potential third force in global politics). But what of the global periphery and semi-periphery, the by-passed and lagging economic regions of the world only tangentially incorporated into the circuits of global capital and without much bargaining power? As we learned during the Cold War era, some of these will fall directly into the spheres of influence of one or another of the two or three core regions of the global system, others (such as certain Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries) will for strategic reasons be more hotly contested. The world periphery poses a great threat to global stability. Some peripheral countries are recruiting grounds for Islamic jihad warriors (e.g. Yemen, Egypt, Palestine), some erupt from time to time into genocidal madness (Rwanda, Liberia, Kampuchea), some are governed by corrupt authoritarian, even tyrannical regimes (North Korea, Myanmar, Zimbabwe), some, as regions within nation states, engage in long-term secessionist, often violent struggles (southern Sudan, the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, Kosovo), some revert to atavistic systems of gov-

ernance and become what are known as failed states (Somalia, Afghanistan). Collectively, the world periphery is the primary source of the illicit global trade in arms, drugs, and people which flourishes whenever world order breaks down. To avert these outcomes, some means must be found to give an effective voice to the billions of people who are condemned to live under conditions of peripheral disorder. Their voices can be heard effectively only within the framework of the United Nations and its multiple agencies for health, education, human rights, development, food and agriculture, peacekeeping missions, and so forth. Although the United Nations is a weak organization at present, it is also an absolutely essential institution for a just, peaceful, sustainable world. To turn it into a more effective instrument of global governance, it will need to be greatly strengthened. But this topic goes beyond the present essay and will have to be addressed on another occasion. In the remainder of these brief remarks, I propose, first, to sketch a scenario in which China attains its position as a global power by mid-century. Second, I want to suggest some propositions about the European Union and what it needs to do in order to become something more than a multinational market characterized by a common currency, customs union, an integrated transport system, unhampered movements of labour across national frontiers, and so forth. Europe is, of course, already something more than a common market. Its Copenhagen accession criteria (1993) give a good sense of what this ‘more’ consists of. A country wishing to join the European Union must, first of all, be located in Europe. Once this is established – and where the boundaries of Europe are drawn is ultimately a political decision – the following additional criteria must be satisfied:

• stability of the institutions guaranteeing democracy, the primacy of law, respect for human rights, as well as the respect for and protection of minorities;

• the existence of a viable market economy, the ability to withstand competitive pressure and market forces in the internal market of the Union;

• the ability of the applicant country to accept its obligations as a member of the Union and to implement the Community rights and obligations in its national legislation.