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China-Europe-U.S. Trialogue Second meeting

    • Venice
    • 27 October 2011

          The second meeting of the Trialogue series focused on the issues of global economic governance (with special attention to the role of the G20), trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific links in the security field, and instability in the Middle East region with its possible implications.

          The worsening of the economic crisis in the eurozone – as a US recovery remains doubtful – is changing the Chinese perspective on the major problems of international governance: the conditions are ripe for a amore active and dynamic role (starting from the financial sector) but also new risks in a climate that makes investment choices particularly delicate. Among the topics under discussion was the possibility that China might contribute significantly to the European emergency fund, although it should be clear that the solution to the problem will ultimately have to come from policies pursued by the Europeans themselves.

          It was underlined that  any financial and monetary choice is closely linked to the trade context – especially in the sense that a fundamental cause of the present financial instability lies indeed in the commercial macro-imbalances. There is, in any case, a very wide consensus on the importance of keeping an open international trading system by resisting protectionist temptations.

          The G20 primarily serves a coordinating function, ensuring that the main emerging economies are represented (at least more so than in the UN Security Council). However, it is not the right time to broaden the G20’s competencies, also in light of the growing difficulty of reaching consensus on the mode of intervention (even when common goals and priorities are identified) and the tendency to add items on the summit’s agendas without having demonstrated the ability to practically pursue coordinated action plans. In any event, the G20 needs to rely on specialized international agencies to implement its overall policy choices.

          The international security system is going through a very delicate transition phase, with the gradual adjustment of the US a multipolar setting. East and Southeast Asia presents an array of great challenges which go beyond the bilateral relationship between Washington and Beijing and also affect regional powers, vital global communication lanes, and European interests. In more general terms, China is voicing its concern over the military dimension of the US presence in the world but is willing to search for cooperative solutions to the major security problems, from the Korean peninsula to the Iranian nuclear issues, and from the “Af-Pak” complex to piracy and terrorism. Confidence building is an indispensable ingredient in this process, and multilateral for a – both formal and informal – have a decisive role to play in facilitating international cooperation.

          A definitive assessment of the Arab “transitions” (a more precise term than “Springs” or “revolutions”) is still impossible, given that outcomes remain very uncertain and the risks of more instability very real. The prevailing view in Beijing is that American influence in the Middle East is clearly waning, and that this opens up diplomatic and economic space for regional powers and external actors. At the same time, the partial decline of US clout does not correspond to the growth of Europe’s weight, due to fragmentation of national policies and the current priority of internal economic issues.

          A controversial point regards the use of military force, all the more so in the wake of the Libyan crisis; this also explains the negative attitude adopted by Beijing on sanctions against Syria, which is symptomatic of the obstacles on the path to a triangular cooperation among Europe, the US and China. Chinese priorities naturally include energy supplies and other raw materials, both from the Mediterranean region and from Subsaharan Africa – an interest which can increase the level of competition with the Western countries but also create opportunities for economic synergies.

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          • China-Europe-U.S. Trialogue Second meeting, Venice, October 27-29, 2011