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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

G-2 too simple for reality

May 24, 2009

By David Gosset
Asia Times
May 16, 2009

English author Charles Dickens famously began his
Tale of Two Cities, published exactly 150 years
ago, by capturing the ambivalence of an era: "It
was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of
foolishness." In the current global turbulence,
Dickens's depiction of contradictory forces applies.

On the occasion of the London summit on April 2,
the leaders of the Group of 20 countries declared
in their final statement: "We face the greatest
challenge to the world economy in modern times."
The International Labor Organization estimates
that in 2008, the number of unemployed people in
the world has increased by 14 million and that 38
million people will loose their job in 2009 ("The
Financial and Economic Crisis: A Decent Work Response, 2009").

General secretary of the United Nations Ban
Ki-moon expressed his worry: "I fear worse to
come: a full-blown political crisis defined by
growing social unrest, weakened governments and
angry publics who have lost faith in their
leaders and their own future." (The Guardian, April 2, 2009).

However, by questioning many of our assumptions,
our ways of doing business or even some of our
values, the crisis prompted meaningful
reflections and debates, generated intense
consultation, and triggered important reforms.
 From a geopolitical perspective, it underlines a
rearrangement of power which was already reshaping our world system.

The European Union, China and the US are the
three main structuring forces of the 21st century
global village, and the dynamics within this
triangle as much as its interactions with the
rest of the world will largely determine the
foreseeable future of world politics. In this
context, the idea floated by some analysts of a
G-2, composed of the US and China, is a
theoretical bipolarization that evacuates one
fundamental dimension and misses a nuanced and complex reality.

Although the global recession has an influence on
China (its first-quarter gross domestic product
rose 6.1% from a year earlier, its worst
quarterly growth in two decades), it certainly
does not halt China's renaissance. Beijing's
internal adjustments (from an export-oriented
economy to a growth more dependent on the
domestic consumption), its active and
sophisticated international involvement from
Africa to South America, combined with the
difficulties of the other main players accelerate
China's re-emergence and its return to past centrality.

Obviously, China is already a pillar of Asia's
stability and is in a position to co-design a new
world order. The paper on an international
reserve currency released just before the G-20 by
China's central bank governor Zhou Xiaochuan can
be seen as an illustration of Beijing's readiness
to make a proposal which could, if adopted, have
considerable global effect. The Chinese
renaissance modifies the world's distribution of
power in a gradual and peaceful process that does
not entail abrupt discontinuity or violent disruption.

Europe, another major factor of the world
affairs' equation, has also to cope with the
decline of the global economic activity. Even if
the Europeans have used mainly the national level
to tackle the challenges, the crisis exposes the
need for a more integrated and potent Europe.
With adequate leadership, the European Union
could take some initiatives to put itself in a
position to have a strategic role commensurate
with the weight of its economy and in tune with its sui generis culture.

Although President Barack Obama's America remains
a key element of the global village, the US has
lost the status of unchallenged hyperpower.
However, the failure of Wall Street was not at
the origin of a redistribution of power but
reinforced a shift that was already unfolding.

Confronted with the growing evidence of China's
re-emergence and the increasing economic
interdependence across the Pacific within the
"Chinamerica", some raised the idea of a G-2. In
an article entitled "The Group of Two that could
Change the World" (Financial Times, January 13,
2009), Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former national
security advisor under president Jimmy Carter,
declared that the world needs an informal G-2 made of China and the US.

At the eighth Euro-China Forum organized in
Tianjin, China, on April 28, former French prime
minister Laurent Fabius made the following
remark: "The new fashionable motto in some
circles is supposed to be the so-called G-2, a
condominium between the US and China which would
be capable of solving all the problems. Let me
say bluntly that I consider it to be an illusion."

Undoubtedly, the Sino-American relationship has
to be taken to another level, but it does not
have to be a process that would put the European
Union on the margin of world affairs.
Sino-American and Sino-European links have to be upgraded simultaneously.

Only a trio and not a G-2 can contribute to solve
the global social, economic and political
problems. A constructive triangulation between
Beijing, Washington and Brussels requires an open
China, a cooperative America and a cohesive EU,
but would depend also on actors free of past
ideological barriers and able to conceive
cooperation where all the potential synergy could flourish.

Instead of speculating on a G-2, the time has
come to initiate a strategic trialogue, a process
which would bring together top Chinese, American and European leaders.

A trio is not a triumvirate in the sense that it
does not aim to subordinate other poles of power.
It is by accepting the idea of a multipolar world
that the EU-China-US trio can be a genuine constructive dynamic.

In the triangle EU-China-US, the link between
Europe and China has a special significance.
Three centuries ago, Gottfried Leibniz, a
powerful thinker but also the political advisor
of the House of Brunswick in Hanover, had already
detected some of the key features of the Sino-European articulation.

In his preface to the Novissima Sinica (1697) he wrote:

I consider it a singular plan of the fates that
human cultivation and refinement should today be
concentrated, as it were, in the two extremes of
our continent, in Europe and in China, which
adorns the Orient as Europe does the opposite
edge of the earth. Perhaps Supreme Providence has
ordained such an arrangement, so that as the most
cultivated and distant peoples stretch out theirs
arms to each other, those in between may
gradually be brought to a better way of life.

Leibniz's insight is a very solid reference.
Europe and China are two civilizations with
certain symmetrical characteristics at the two
edges of the same continent, and by deepening
their relationship they can bring prosperity and
stability to the vast and complex space which is
in the middle of Eurasia. What Leibniz's
observation presupposes is of an astonishing relevance today.

Various forms of excess are certainly to blame
for the current tumultuous global conditions.
 From the temptations of neo-imperialism to
irrational exuberance, hubris is too often in
action. Europe and China proved several times in
their long history that they could find the path
of moderation and the way of balance. The US
would benefit from two ancient civilizations
capable of reinterpreting the best of their respective tradition.

The EU-China-US trio has in itself the material
and spiritual resources to serve the ideal of a
more harmonious modernity - an era of synthesis
and conciliation between present and past, man and nature and civilizations.

If Dickens' Tale of Two Cities helps to look at
the ambivalence of a critical period, 14th
century Chinese author Luo Guanzhong's Romance of
The Three Kingdoms, which envelops the concept of
a triangular configuration, adds one dimension
that takes us closer to global equilibrium.

David Gosset is director of the Academia Sinica
Europaea at China Europe International Business
School (CEIBS), Shanghai, and founder of the Euro-China Forum.
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