A couple of weeks after arriving in the US, I realized how naive americans are about China and this new world order. In most conversations, China was this big white elephant in the room. Everyone could see it, no one was acknowledging it and worst, no one could really understand it.
Since 9/11 the world has changed, but not only in the ways we mostly talk about. Slowly but surely, China has been cementing its place in the world, launching in 2013 what’s likely the most ambitious plan since JFK decided to put a man on the moon, the Belt and Road initiative.
President Xi called it a “community of shared destiny”, Bruno Maçães in his book “Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order” called it “a close network of common interests by which every country’s development is affected by the development path in other countries” but what this really is, it’s a complete new way of doing diplomacy and growing China’s influence in the world. Americans “invented” capitalism and China as a very good student applied it to diplomacy in a way that the US haven’t understood it yet.
I remember many Americans being shocked, offended and even betrayed by the relationship China is building with African, Asian and European countries. Over the past 20 years, China has been buying many western companies and valuable assets (as Portuguese, I sure know a lot about this), lending money to dozens of nations in distress, becoming a strong business partner to many others and growing it’s economic and political influence like not even Genghis Khan was able to do. While, in the same period, the US has been busy with a very expensive (and pointless) war, dealing with the biggest economic crisis since the Great Depression and most recently dealing with populism, white nationalism and with a President that has been fighting an esquizofrenic war with almost everything and everyone. The Chinese took advantage of that (why wouldn’t they?) and occupied a space the US left empty.
Hopefully, democrats will win the 2020 Presidential election and then, it will be up to the next President to redefine US foreign policy in the light of a new reality. For now, we already know that the foreign policy playbook from the last 70 years no longer works. Russia is no longer the only enemy. China is challenging the US economic and political influence in the world like it was never done before. And the transatlantic relationship will need lots of repairment after 4 years of distrust and misalignment.
As for Europe, whenever we stop shoving our heads in the sand and start thinking about the future we will need to make a decision about who we are aligning with. Will we stick with the US for old times’ sake or will we be pressured to join our most important business partner? Something we know, the longer the US takes to figure things out, the harder it will be, specially in a time where countries like Italy, Hungary, Greece and Portugal are already openly defending Chinese positions in Brussels.
About the author
Inês Santos Silva is the Managing Partner at Aliados – The Challenges Consulting, an innovation consulting firm focused on solving and executing solutions for the core economic challenges, from the future of work, to tech & impact entrepreneurship to sustainability and circular economy. Inês is also a Co-founder and Chief Activist at Portuguese Women in Tech, she was appointed a 2018-19 Marshall Memorial Fellow by the German Marshall Fund and a founding member and Curator of the Global Shapers Lisbon Hub from the World Economic Forum.