Will China’s Rise Spoil the Trans-Atlantic Relationship?

September 26th, 2011

Published on Spiegel Online International, by Daniel M. Kliman and Andrew Small, September 23, 2011.

A new survey by the German Marshall Fund finds that China’s rise is leading Americans to turn their attention away from Europe and to view China as more of a threat than Europeans do. But how much do these factors threaten the trans-Atlantic relationship, and how well can it adapt to changing circumstances? 

Strategic circumstances and brute economic realities are starting to push Europeans and Americans into different places when they think about China’s and Asia’s rise. New polling released this month suggests not only a growing divergence in threat perceptions, but also a trend in US public opinion that places Asia, rather than Europe, at the center of Americans’ interests. Without a conscious effort to construct a partnership that is attuned to these new realities, Asia’s ascendance threatens to lead to a long-term drift in trans-Atlantic relations … //

… As the crisis in the euro zone intensifies, that unity is now showing signs of weakening. China is making a serious effort to increase its investments in Europe during an exceptionally fragile time for the European Union and the entire European project. This is beginning to translate into political credit and public goodwill toward China. Indeed, the Transatlantic Trends survey shows the first serious uptick in Beijing’s numbers in Europe for many years.

Natural Partners in Asia , Too:

It will be to the detriment of both sides if trans-Atlantic outlooks drift further apart. Economically, Europe’s role in the Asia-Pacific region is as big as the United States’. It leads the way in negotiating free-trade agreements, and there are crucial shared interests on issues ranging from the protection of intellectual property to managing a new wave of inbound investments by state-owned enterprises.

In the military realm, the US security role in Asia is a public good that also benefits Europeans, who have a vital interest in regional stability. Europe may not play a meaningful military role in the Asia-Pacific region, but it is still important to achieve congruence in strategic thinking about the world’s most dynamic region.

This is not just a matter of reinforcing Europe’s aversion to lifting the arms embargo on China or restraining the export of dual-use technologies. Europe’s willingness to take on greater burdens in its own neighborhood, as it did in Libya, would do much to facilitate the strengthening of American commitments in Asia that will be required in the coming years. On values-based issues — from human rights to democracy promotion — Europe remains America’s natural partner in Asia and beyond.

Compared to the Soviet threat, the Balkan wars of the 1990s or post-9/11 Afghanistan, Asia provides seemingly fewer natural opportunities for cooperation. In fact, there is still a strong crossover in values and interests. But drawing out these commonalities will be a challenge in a region in which the kind of common threats that have necessitated trans-Atlantic collaboration are less apparent.

Still, the news is not all bad. The fact that security threats in Europe are no longer pivotal to US concerns is more of a cause for celebration than for anxiety. But a failure to head off emerging differences could threaten a slow withering of the trans-Atlantic partnership as Asia rises. (full text).

(Daniel M. Kliman and Andrew Small are fellows at the German Marshall Fund of the United States GMF, a non-partisan American public policy and grantmaking institution dedicated to promoting better understanding and cooperation between North America and Europe on trans-Atlantic issues).


German Marshall Fund of the US GMF;

Transatlantic Trends.

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