The old world order. Since the Second World War, the world has increasingly been dominated by a system of all kinds of international institutions such as the UN, the WTO (World Trade Organization), NATO and other institutions that tried to play a mediating role in many issues or conflicts. The balance has always been shaky, but the US and China have now disturbed it. Under the leadership of Trump, the US has exchanged its role as a champion of free trade and international trade treaties for a role as a regional powerhouse with the motto “make America great again”. Both the UN and WTO agreements are effortlessly eroded or set aside in favor of a unilateral, protectionist policy. China has also developed from a relatively modest and poor country into a regionally dominant party with world ambitions.
Transition to two great powers? It seems as if the world from a cooperating network of countries is in a difficult transition process to a world with two dominant superpowers, the US and China. The technology fight is an exponent of that. As the US starts to put more and more barriers on Chinese technology, a situation arises that companies and countries are forced to opt for Chinese or American technology. It is clear China will never bow for American pressure, so they will choose to avoid American technology and accelerate their own developments. Conversely, the same applies to the US.
No role for Europe. Europe is now lagging too far behind to be able to play an own significant role. In the coming period, the US will increase the pressure on European countries to avoid Chinese technology. Conversely, China doesn’t want to lose the entire European technology market, so will make every effort to entice European countries to opt for Chinese technology. The battle for the 5G network shows that, but this will undoubtedly continue in the field of smartphones and other technology.
This technology battle is putting great pressure on Europe. China and the US will do everything to divide Europe and to get individual countries on their side. The UK may expect “the best deal ever” from the US, but then under Trump’s conditions. However, China will also come up with attractive offers for countries that want to become a link in the new silk route. Whether Europe will be able to maintain the unity under this increasing Chinese and American pressure is highly questionable. As major economic bloc, Europe should try to play a mediating role in this conflict. Europe is of great importance to both China and the US, as a market and as a technology partner. But Europe is unfortunately weak, divided and lacks strong central leadership.
Dominant world power? Ultimately, this entire process revolves around one thing: who can call themselves the dominant global economic power at the end of this century? The US will stand up against the dominant role of China and will do everything to set up their ally Europe against China. But because the US under Trump does not behave themself as an ally it is questionable whether Europe will just conform to the wishes of the US. The question is also how this process of arm pushing between the US and China will be watched by the rest of the world.
Technology war only has losers. The fight between China and the US is certainly not very attractive for technology companies. Neither in China nor in the US. Where until recently international cooperation between companies was the dominant policy, there, companies, so consumers, so countries, are increasingly forced to opt for either American or Chinese technology. That is not very fertile or useful, not efficient, wasteful and polarizing. And will therefore encounter increasing resistance from both companies and neighbouring countries. Both Xi and Trump will realize that. Partly because both China and the US are also going to suffer damage from this process.
Necessary phase in the transition to “the fluid society”. But this titanic fight between China and the US is perhaps a necessary intermediair phase in the transition process to “fluid society.” It is logical and necessary that in that process, especially the classical superpowers must give up their ingrained and as usual dominant behaviour, culture, politics, in favour of a new and fairer global playing field. The old world governance will be replaced step by step with a new order. There are is no place anymore for a few dominant players in this new order, whether it is about countries or tech companies. It will involve broad international cooperation between all parties: countries, large and small, as well as business, large and small. The UK can continue to dream of the old Commonwealth era, but that is not coming back. The US can continue to dream of its world dominance, but that too is over. And China will have to learn that its thousands of years old culture should become more open, in favour of participation in the new world community for which it must take its responsibility in cooperation with other large and small countries. And tech companies can dream of monopoly positions and low tax payments, but that too will no longer be tolerated. All these classic positions of power are faltering at the moment.
The Fluid Society. It will give pain coming decades, for classic superpowers, whose roles are going to change most dramatically. But it is moving irreversibly towards “the fluid society”. Irrevocable, because time and again it appears that all other solutions do not work. It is therefore better for all parties to realize that and to accept a new role than to resist the inevitable. That only takes time, is bad for the economy and therefore bad for citizens and businesses. It is high time that the traditional superpowers, as well as the big international business community, in particular the tech companies, put their hands together to shape the globalizing world instead of letting it get out of hand. If Europe finally showed some leadership, it could actually play a mediating role in such a debate.