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If Major Powers are Worried, then What About us?

If Major Powers are Worried, then What About us?

Monday, 6 May, 2019 - 08:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
It is not surprising that the Parisians grumble. Grumbling is a constant part of their mood. It is Saturday, the time to enjoy the holiday. But the weather is not favorable. The sun rises quickly, but then gives way to clouds and rain. Citizens and tourists hide under their umbrellas.

For months now, Saturday has had another flavor. The “yellow jackets” continue their protest despite a decline in their appeal. The dialogue launched by Emmanuel Macron has also proven to be difficult in convincing the French people. There are those who believe that France likes arguments but does not like change.

Mr. President is not at his best. Opinion polls are targeting both his term and image. At the Elysee Palace, he can see that there are those who have started to miss his predecessors, although their terms at the helm of the Republic were not at all successful.

The debate in the French media reveals that many citizens feel that their country is in trouble. Some believe that the world has raced ahead of it. The hopes placed in the young president now collide with the walls of reality. There are those who believe that a large part of the French population feel that their country is stagnant or even going backward, and that the French role in the world is waning.

It is difficult for France to be a true partner of the White House master, who likes to do things on his own. His method does not leave a prominent role for the European ally. The European boat itself is boiling under the flames of the British divorce, the rise of populist voices, increased hostility towards immigrants and the realization that integration policies are increasingly failing.

There are those who believe that Britain’s exit from the European ship will provide France with an unprecedented opportunity to lead, especially since the German Chancellor is ready to leave office. But experts are quick to recall that France does not have an economy capable of protecting a major role. They draw attention to the extent of China’s involvement in Africa, the continent of which France was the primary player in vast regions.

The crisis of what role to play is seriously being discussed in France. The Europe will remain a priority. But Europe’s ability to garner a distinct position in the club it is supposed to share with the US, China and Russia seems limited by the weakness of the European spirit.

Sometimes passengers escape from the weight of time by making occasional conversations with their colleagues in airplanes or hotels. I like this type of dialogue among strangers, especially since its sole aim is to fight off boredom and waiting. A Japanese tourist at the sports club asked me why I had come to Paris and I replied that it was a work date. He smiled and said that the city deserved more than that. It deserves frequent visits to check out its great cultural wealth. We agreed to continue our conversation later.

In the hotel lobby, my profession prompted me to ask him about his country. He praised the achievements made by Japan in the decades that followed the war through the will of its people, who emerged from the bitter defeat. I thought I had found an optimistic man and I was happy, because most of our interlocutors transmit quite a bit of anxiety. But the speaker soon joined the worriers club.

I asked him about his concerns. He replied: “How can you be reassured when you have a neighbor like Kim Jong-un, who finds extraordinary pleasure in building a nuclear arsenal and personally oversees the production of new generations of missiles?”

The tourist did not hesitate to reveal that his real concern was the emergence of a gigantic neighbor, whose true intentions could not be predicted. He said that China’s rise is unprecedented in our time and will have great repercussions on the balance of world powers in the economy and security and then in politics.

He said the Japanese are following with some concern how China has replaced them as the world’s second-largest economy, how it is seeking to claim the first position and deny America the key to its strength and prestige. He argued that China today has an amazing surplus of power, which will translate into a tendency to dominate, not only its immediate surroundings, but also the world.

He noted that China’s economic attack in Asia, Africa and Europe is also accompanied by an increase in military spending, which also threatens to shift the balance of military power. He said that he was concerned about the absence of mechanisms capable of containing the rise of such a force. America is no longer able to assume the role of the policeman in the world, although it is the only option available to us to maintain a balance against the Chinese awakening.

The tourist went to inspect the cultural wealth of Paris and I thought of the terrible Middle East. I thought of the battle-ready armies bordering our maps, of mobile militias in theaters of conflict… of past wars and hatreds… of unemployment, poverty and millions of refugees.

Would the Middle East be suffering had Iran found an Iranian Deng dreaming of turning it into an economic power without betting on interfering in the maps of others? Would the Middle East be suffering had Turkey kept its dreams within its borders and not engaged in a project to change the region’s features? Wouldn’t it have been better for the entire region if Iran and Turkey were engaged in a transformation and reform project aimed at joining the battle for progress?

The Middle East will not change unless the policy of bridges prevails over the policy of walls. The Chinese lesson deserves a thorough meditation.

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