Can One Belt, One Road stem the tide of populism?
In this interview with CNBC, Dominique de Villepin explains the importance of the New Silk Road project for China’s cooperation policy
In this interview with CNBC, Dominique de Villepin explains the importance of the New Silk Road project for China’s cooperation policy
Since 2001, we have entered a vicious cycle of a clash of civilizations. We have not seen the bottom of it yet. And 2014 has been a cruel year for worldwide stability. Look at what happened in Ukraine. Look at the situation in the Middle East, and in particular the victories of the jihadist movement of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Look at the tensions in the China seas.
We live in a world of crisis. Mankind is again walking on a dangerous path because there are two cliffs on both of this narrow walkway.
A CLASH OF POWERS
On one side is the risk of a clash of powers. For two decades we have lived in a world with a single superpower, the United States, with the prospect in the minds of some that we are entering a time with no superpower at all.
All older powers had been wiped out by history: the powers of the Eastern world in the 19th century, like India or China after the Opium Wars; the central empires of Europe had been overcome between 1914 and 1945 ; the colonial Empires France and Great Britain split up in the 1960s and, last of all, the USSR disappeared in 1991.
But now we see the sidelined powers rising again. In very recent times, we see Russia seeking to overcome the national humiliation of the breakup of the USSR in 1991. We see China has risen again economically in the last 30 years and wants to play a greater political role now.
History has taught us where rivalries of rising power and diminishing superpower can lead us.
In 2014, we should pay particular attention to the memory of conflicts and wars of the past. One century ago, in 1914, Europe and the world were entering 30 years of wars, hatred and massacres. But, alas, we see that the same mistakes as yesterday are made again and again.
Everywhere we see choices for confrontation being made. We see that the theories of containment are still very much alive, for example, in the American policy toward China in South East Asia and in East Asia, or toward Russia in Eastern Europe.
A CLASH OF IDENTITIES
On the other side of our narrow path to the future, we have a risk that is no less dangerous: the risk of a clash of identities. In a world deeply transformed by globalization of economic production and by the rapid circulation of information, we see that national states are having difficulties meeting the new challenges.
We see failed states in many of the poor regions of the world. We see failing states in the Middle East because of the civil dissent in each country. We see overwhelmed states even in Europe and America, where decision-making seems more and more difficult and inadequate in times of crisis and uncertainty.
When the nation states fails them, when day to day life becomes too difficult, people find comfort and stability in smaller communities, in cultural or religious identities.
In Iraq today, the national feeling has almost disappeared behind ethnic and religious identities. But such identities exist only as differences from each other. They become hysterical, incompatible and intolerant of all diversity.
The cult of identity is a selfish and brutal vision of the world that can lead to the most terrible crimes.
Let’s remember also that 70 years ago, the Allied forces landed in Normandy to free Europe and the world. They built up a diplomatic system of collective security so that the terrible wars among powers and over identities could never happen again. They also opened the trials of Nuremberg to tell the whole world that there were laws above all men.
Yet, look at what is happening in the Middle East today. What we are seeing is exactly a civil war of identities. Look at the problems in Europe today with the rise of anti-immigrant populism — they are also the result of a doubt about each one’s own identity.
We seem to be prisoners of a terrible choice today: either the uncontrollable nationalisms of the humiliated striking back or the violent struggles of communities to assert their identities.
CULTURE AND DIALOGUE IS OUR ONLY TOOL
The only tool we have against the clash of identities is culture and dialogue.
Culture means building bridges. It is about giving a chance to artists to gather new experiences and influences with which they will open new ways and create new affinities. We can think today of many artists that are walking this often difficult path and are making our horizon grow larger.
I will only mention one, because he is from Shanghai, working there and in France. It is Yan Pei-ming who has settled his art in between Chinese and French culture and has become one of the truly global artists.
The kind of bridges such an artist constructs are in fact more like aqueducts. Once you’ve built them, you have created a whole new circulation of ideas, images, possibilities. You are receiving and giving fresh blood to the organism of mankind. It is their task to teach us how to become universal while remaining true to themselves.
CULTURE MEANS DIVERSITY
Culture means diversity. There is always more than one point of view on a crisis. You have to listen to everybody before making up your mind and you have to act as if there were no definite truth. That’s why it is so important to have a lively culture respecting all points of views.
For the 50th anniversary of the establishment of French-Chinese diplomatic ties, there has been a major exhibition of Chinese contemporary art in Paris. In this exhibit, I am very impressed to see the important presence of cultural and ethnic minorities and their inspiration revealed in the works of the exhibit. This is the positive sign of a nation confident of its stability and its future.
NO CENTER TO IDENTITY, ONLY A NETWORK OF POINTS OF VIEW
And, indeed, culture means confidence, the ability to change and to innovate. You never can define an identity reflexively, but only actively. Through reflection, you will exclude, you will separate, you will simplify and in the end, you will discover that there is no center in an identity, but only a network of points of views.
Through action, through creation, you will on the contrary make the common identity grow larger and stronger. Because you will bind together. You will create new links through new ideas.
RETHINKING THE DIALOGUE OF CULTURES
We have to rethink the dialogue of cultures.
We have to center it on the challenges of our common future. What did Marco Polo bring home from his travels to the Chinese empire? Some goods for trade, certainly. But that didn’t bring him much fortune, as he ended up jailed by the Genovese.
What he brought back most importantly was a narrative and memories that are still told today. He brought many illusions, some truths, but above all, the curiosity of difference and diversity. He brought back to a capacity to look out for questions that we wouldn’t ask ourselves if we stayed in our armchairs.
We have to create the conditions for a worldwide culture that will one day not replace the different cultures, but bind them together.
This is happening today through the possibilities of the Internet. This is happening through the development of tourism for all and everywhere.
In this time of new Silk Roads, we need new Marco Polos. We need new places to discuss, exchange, tell and hear stories. That’s why building a consensus about common values is so important.
Creating a worldwide spirit cannot be only the task of those concerned with the economy.
We need to support artists that can be bridges between cultures. We need to support the work of spreading ideas and building a new common history. Only then can we avoid falling into the abyss of a clash of identities or succumb to the passions of nationalism.
19th June 2014, Huffington Post
In an interview with CNN, Dominique de Villepin gives his vision of Syrian crisis
So, “forward” it goes. It’s a second chance more than a second mandate. This means that President Obama will need to make tough and thorough choices. Going forward can mean keeping the same old path, because moving is more important than being headed somewhere. That’s obstination more than progress. But going forward also means acknowledging that the country and the world are at the crossroads, and that a second chance is not about doing the same mistakes again but about learning the lessons and trying again, harder, with a new vision.
There’s the second chance for the political institutions of the American democracy. Its model based on the continuously new frontier to conquer is coming to an end. Because the United States is not anymore the young and restless country it has been. Because it’s not sure it is the land of equal opportunities anymore, as the top 1% is the only beneficiary of the economic growth of the last decades. Because it’s not anymore the generous melting pot of the past, when a white majority created a logic of rights and respect that gave all minorities their hope and their place. The new America will be an America without majority, this means an America with a balance, that moves forward, but even more importantly, that moves together.
The perspectives are not very bright. American elites are powerless. Washington is driving towards the fiscal cliff, each party clinging at one half of the wheel in such a way that no one can turn it, one way or the other. There’s a dim feeling that whoever is candidate, in the end, a few voters of eight or nine medium-sized states will make the call. There’s also the dim feeling that whoever is elected, it won’t make such a big difference.
Yet, there’s the aspiration for a reconciliation. Yet, the American people always found the strength to unite again when the forces of division were at their highest, after the Civil War, after the Great Depression, after the moral crisis of the seventies. In this sense, the deep divisions today are the signal of an awakening to come. Still, this means that a generation must rise to these expectations, this generation Romney called “the worst generation” in American history. This means bridging the gap between the parties, this means resisting the temptations of extremism among each electorate, this means advocating for a new form of political accountability. That’s the way to transform this second chance into a second life for democracy.
There’s also a second chance for the American economy that must be grasped. Yes there seems to be some sort of fragile economic recovery. But it’s not enough to bet on restarting a tired engine. Because you know it’ll fail again. The growth that is hoped for today may well be a false growth, a growth eating up today the grain that was meant to be sown tomorrow ; a growth preparing more difficult times ahead. In a nutshell, a second hand and not a second chance. Why? Because it’s a growth based on the same old advantages of the old economy : making labor force cheaper, making energy cheaper. But what are the consequences? The middle classes are under-investing in the “human capital”, in their education and in their health to keep their heads above water today. The shale gas extraction may well end with costly environmental prejudices. In the short term, it’s an incentive for industries and it may contribute creating up to 5 million industrial jobs, but in the long run it may harm investment and development, as it has done in almost all oil or gas-rich countries around the world. Will Dakota be the new petrostate of the world?
Some seem to think that this is the only way to rise to the Chinese challenge, but that’s not true. This strategy applies to competition with other industrial countries, mostly in Europe. The same economic war that European countries are engaging in with their policies of budgetary austerity. Keeping ahead of China would be a very different challenge. It would mean betting on good basic education for all and a strong higher education at the same time. It would mean investing in green technologies and renewable energies, as Obama’ explained very well in 2008.
A second chance also on the world scene in a changing world that might well not wait for the Western world. We are now part of the Old world. Multipolarity is not a project, it’s an economic, political and cultural reality now. In fact it’s a world with three fragile empires. And this year, all three of them have come to choose their emperors. This year, the three empires are facing tough choices for their future.
Look to your West, beyond the Pacific, and you’ll see a rising empire, China. If you look closer, you’ll see that it’s weaker than it seems, at the eve of changing its key players in thursday’s 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. And this Congress will probably be more important than Tuesday’s election, even if it has not the Hollywood glimmer and glamour that captivates the world. The red emperors are facing social unrest everywhere in China, they are facing an unparalleled crisis of legitimacy. The deal with Chinese Society -silence traded for growth- is becoming more and more complicated : growth is in jeopardy and massive corruption asks for more and more silence. Several major leaders have been put into question in the last months in different scandals. I believe this crisis has a deeper cause. The corrupt elites are the symptom of a dead end in the Chinese development path. The Chinese are facing a choice : either continuing an export-driven manufacturing boom for which increading pressure on social demands for decent salaries and rights is needed, that’s to say a severe grip of the political elites on the social system with a strong police ; either engaging in fundamental change by rebalancing the economic system through interior demand with the high risk of less growth in the near term, that’s to say enough confidence of the people in the elites to leap into thirty more years of “enlightened leadership” with perhaps, in the end, more democratic rights, less inequalities.
The failure of the Chinese political system today is making this choice very difficult.
Look eastwards, and you’ll see another empire, struggling for survival, that’s Europe. For sure, this distant heir of the Roman Empire is stricken with contradictions, insufficiencies and failures, and it looks much more like the Holy German Empire of the 18th century, weak, divided, even falling apart, an empty shell. Last march, the president of the Union, Herman Van Rompuy was chosen for a second mandate. Let’s be honest, this wasn’t tremendous news. This emperor has less power than the Japanese Emperor in his palace. What historians will say in hindsight is : the true power was in the hands of the German chancellor. But Germany must still learn to take into account the moods and demands of his equals, the other heads of State of Europe. Europe has a millennial history of failing empires. Still it always was able to move forward. And I believe Europe will in the future, with its unique mix of idealism and pragmatism. It’s easy today to blame everything that doesn’t work on Europe. There’s no leadership, there’s no vision, there’s even no reason. But here too, the political blockade with the absurd and melodramatic sequence of “last chance summits” of the three last years is only the symptom. Europe has come to the end of one strategy, the pragmatic convergence after centuries of wars. We created federal institutions in silence, without the power to drive them. That’s the key question for the euro. Here too, the failure of Europe’s political elites, because they are stuck in national party politics and can’t promote a real and realistic European agenda is in the way. Still there are hopes, because the institutions can evolve, for example the European Parliament who could stimulate a continent-wide debate and come to choose the European Commission after 2014.
Last of all, look at yourselves. The American Empire too is at the crossroads. Here again, it’s all about tough choices that, because they are not made, begin to fragilize the elites and the common institutions. America’s choice is the choice of its place in the world. The leading nation must make the choice between remaining the leader of a dwindling West, that will need to be more and more aggressive so as to be heard, or becoming a mirror of the world, like all Empires in history who have had a second chance, Rome for instance. They will need to look at the South within themselves, that has the face of dozens of millions of legal but also illegal immigrants from Latin America. The United States need to become a collective power, sharing decisions so as to share responsibilities.
Fleeing away from responsibilities because of the legacy of bad wars, turning towards the cocoon of isolationism is not the solution. Second thoughts are not second chances. It’s about transforming the words of 2008 into actions, because it is still possible. I believe if President Obama uses the four years that he has ahead, he can make the difference in the Middle East, in Central Asia, in Africa. What has been sown needs to be grown and harvested.
In fact, today, these three choices of the three great powers are linked together. America’s choice and Europe’s choice – our choices- are only a part of the solution. They have a common cause: globalization. In the last thirty years, there has been an unprecedented wave that swept over the world, that has led to unify, to compare, to simplify the world. Massive powers have been unleashed, among which greed that has broken the traditional balance of the elites within each culture. Now, the very rich of this world seem to enter a time of secession, where their only goal is to live together apart from the rest of the world, apart from their own people.
America’s, Europe’s and China’s choices must be the cornerstones of a major global choice between anarchy or common good : this means rebalancing globalization, defining institutions for a worldwide governance and tackling the common global challenges of this century, for Latin America, for Africa, for South-East Asia.
2012 must become the second chance of the world, not only for America.
7th November 2012, Huffington Post