Germany Listening: Dingding Chen

A lecture by Prof. Dingding Chen, Jinan University, Guangzhou, China

“Making America Great Again and the Chinese Dream: Is Germany Caught Between Giants?” Under this title, Dingding Chen, Professor of International Relations at Jinan University, Guangzhou, China as well as Founder and President of Intellisia Institute (海国图智研究院), delivered a lecture on 29 May. The lecture was part of the series “Germany Listening” initiated by Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Master of Arts International Relations in Berlin.

Germany’s current role in international affairs can only be analysed and understood in the context of today’s shifting global order. According to Chen, there are three key factors indicating a reshaping of the post-war order characterised by American-led multilateralism: the “decline and retreat” of the US, the “disintegration” of the European Union, and emerging economies with China at the forefront. These developments result in a changing balance of power, with Germany and the EU caught in the midst of US-Chinese competition. However, Chen does not see them as marking the end of the values or institutions of post-war multilateralism.

While China is in the process of surpassing the US in terms of GDP, has the potential to catch up in the realms of military expenditure and technology, and is playing an increasingly important role in international affairs, it remains beset by serious domestic problems such as continued high rates of extreme poverty. For these reasons, and because China is currently learning how to deal with its increased international weight, Chen takes it to be unimaginable for the country to occupy the position of global hegemon anytime in the near future.

Due to strong economic ties to both the US and China, the European Union is negatively affected by the current trade war between these two global powers. This is especially true for Germany, with the current environment resulting, for instance, in massive losses for its automobile industry. Moreover, issues such as the Belt and Road Initiative and Huawei’s 5G technology create dilemmas between economic opportunity on the one hand and, on the other hand, the maintenance of traditional ties to the US and concerns regarding fair competition and national security.

Chen referred to the EU’s 2019 strategic outlook document on China, which conceives of the latter as both a partner and a competitor. While Chen acknowledged significant aspects of rivalry, he emphasized the potential of partnership. Cooperation between the EU and China is not only based on mutual economic benefit, but also, according to Chen, on a shared interest in multilateral global governance and a rules-based relationship, something that he claimed may be strengthened by common challenges from the Trump administration. Here, Germany plays a leading role in shaping China-EU relations as a consequence of its “elevated political and economic status within the EU”.

For Chen, this does not mean that Germany should replace the transatlantic alliance with closer ties to China. Rather, Germany’s commitment to multilateralism will enable it not only to mobilize other EU states for better EU-China relations, but also to mediate between China and the US. However, in order for these goals to be met, the EU has serious internal challenges to tackle. In response to a question from the audience, Chen concluded that the EU finds itself at a crossroads in the wake of recent parliamentary elections, and that it needs to move in the direction of further integration rather than further fragmentation.

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