The Old World’s New Roles

China’s rise has raised many questions for the West, with some wondering whether it is set to usurp a struggling Europe’s global leadership role. But Europe – which remains the world’s largest economic entity, a leader in multilateral institutions, and a champion of values like human rights – still has a critical role to play.

CAMBRIDGE – China’s rise has raised many questions for the West, with some wondering whether it is set to usurp a struggling Europe’s global leadership role. As one columnist put it, “there is nothing much European governments can do in East Asia, save serve as marketing managers for their domestic businesses.” With neither the diplomatic weight nor the military heft to make an impression in the region, Europe had better leave the heavy lifting to the United States. But this does not have to be the case.

For Europe, the implications of China’s rise are far-reaching, beginning with the United States’ strategic “pivot” toward Asia. After more than 70 years as a top US priority, Europe is beginning to lose its privileged position in the eyes of American policymakers. Moreover, European sales of high-tech dual-use products that complicate America’s security role in Asia is bound to create friction.

Nonetheless, warnings that the Atlantic partnership is eroding are unduly dire. Tellingly, US President Barack Obama’s administration has replaced the term “pivot,” which implies a turn away from something, with “rebalancing.” This change reflects a recognition that China’s increasing economic dominance does not negate the importance of the European Union, which remains the world’s largest economic entity and a leading source of economic innovation, not to mention values like the protection of human rights.

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