Beijing, Brussels must uphold multilateralism

2024-05-13 09:21:39China Daily Editor : Mo Honge ECNS App Download

The Chinese top leader's visit to Europe has instilled confidence in a world full of uncertainty, as evidenced by the Sino-French statements.

French President Emmanuel Macron has emphasized that Europe has been "naïve" in its perception of the affairs of the world and that it is not up to the current challenges because "the rules of the game have changed".

This statement is representative of the current mood of world leaders: the happy days of globalization are gone and a new era has started, fostering the current atmosphere of mistrust and defiance.

For Europe it is quite a shock. It had betted on increasing trade and greater economic integration to help build a safer world where everyone would benefit from more affluence and reap the fruit of peace. In retrospect, again using the words of Macron, this view is naïve — simply because the degree of opposition and animosity at the global level has increased manyfold.

Worse, the European Union has discovered that it is the most vulnerable among the developed economies. It is hugely dependent on imports of energy and raw materials, its supply chains show that it is not self-reliant in many domains, and its capacity and capability to defend itself against external threats, a virus or an aggressive external power, is doubtful or simply inadequate. France is no exception, despite its diplomatic and military capabilities, which mitigate this somber (from a European point of view) diagnosis.

The paradox is that even though distancing oneself from the other players and augmenting one's autonomy is the prevalent motto, it cannot go too far. The legacy of the happy days of globalization is that nowadays interdependence has grown so much that it is impossible to undo it systematically and consistently.

To put it bluntly, despite the rhetoric of some on isolationism and sovereignty, getting out of globalization is impossible. Globalization may have changed, the assessments of its merits and defects may have evolved. But the dependence of every player on the fate of the external world is inescapable. And there are two main reasons for that.

The first one is the complexity of our world. If supply chains have increased, it is not solely due to the discovery of the benefits of specialization. These have been known for ages. It is because of the increasing complexities of technologies. These complexities themselves are the direct consequences of the advances in ideas and scientific discoveries.

And ideas, by definition being intangible, cannot be stopped by walls. These advances make us necessarily dependent on the external world and force every region to remain open. Their consequences are a continuation of the intricacies of the global economy.

The second reason is the general recognition of global public goods. Economists define public goods as goods which are non-rival and non-excludable. Non-rival means the use of the goods by someone does not impair the capacity of others to use it, while non-excludable means no one can be barred from accessing the goods.

Public goods are therefore the opposite of private (or marketable) goods. They cannot be managed through markets and pricing. This explains why we are not used to recognizing them and assessing them. It does not mean they are not important. A global public good is a public good which affects any being living on this planet. Climate is a global public good. So is biodiversity.

Global public goods by their very nature make us interdependent. The realization that the natural world is rapidly deteriorating and recognition of the dire consequences of climate change force us to maintain links with our neighbors.

In brief, two forces are now at work in the global economy. One is centrifugal: increasing self-reliance, untying ties which now appear as threats. The other is centripetal: managing new interdependencies as a result of technological advances, or due to common threats such as climate change.

These forces create new tensions and new risks. It cannot be denied that the current situation is dangerous from a global perspective. The risks come from an escalation of threats and counter-threats which no one can stop and which would threaten everyone. Against these risks, it is essential to maintain open links and exchange channels. No, cooperation is not a dream from the past. It still has a future. The EU and China should work together to prove that.

The author Hubert Kempt is a professor emeritus at Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris-Saclay, Université Paris-Saclay, and an associate researcher at Observatoire Français des Conjonctures Economiques. The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.


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