The stakeholders in the transatlantic relationship – the US, Canada and Europe – have long sought to stabilize international politics and economies by spreading support for the liberal goals of free markets, democracy and human rights. As their own commitment to this agenda appears to waver, China is becoming wealthier and more assertive. This briefing explores the extent to which these goals – along with the unity of the transatlantic relationship – are now in jeopardy.
Great uncertainty surrounds this question, including over the direction of US foreign policy, risks to European cohesion and slowing growth in China. However, two decades of revisionist behaviour by the authorities in Beijing show that China’s values and interests already conflict with transatlantic goals in trade, cyberspace, international development, security and human rights.
On trade, China pursues protectionist policies while engaging actively in intellectual property theft. China’s military modernization and its view of maritime law challenge the territorial status quo in East Asia and raise the risk of military crisis there. China lends unconditionally to countries that abuse human rights and are corrupt, undermining efforts by Western governments to promote good governance and human rights.
Defending liberal goals is complicated by asymmetric interests among the transatlantic partners, especially over security. China also uses ‘wedge’ strategies to pick off potential allies, thus diluting the power and will of any counterbalancing effort.
This briefing argues that China’s rise has worrying implications for the liberal international order. In response, the US should recognize its own strong interest in European unity, while Europeans must be ready to align more with the US (and East Asian allies) in order to temper Chinese behaviour.