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Pole positions


Fifty years ago, former US president Richard Nixon's visit to Beijing changed the world. Usually, the results of the drastic improvement in US-China relations that emerged after this visit are studied in the narrow context of the US Cold War strategy. But the results of the US-China rapprochement were much greater.

Perhaps most importantly, the Cold War bipolar pattern acquired multipolar elements and became more stable. A rigid bipolar system, with the two camps pointing fingers at each other, was almost impossible to remain stable indefinitely.

China's transformation into an independent player in the international system has led to the creation of a more flexible and adaptable "mildly multipolar" system and has also acted as an accelerator of historical developments. China's gradual entry into world markets and its transformation into a major industrial and export power have also contributed decisively to the creation of a globalized market economy, to which the dysfunctional economic system of the Soviet Union could not withstand a sufficient equivalent.

In the early post-Cold War era, the economic miracle that took place in China acted as a stabilizing factor in the international system, reaffirming the notion that history was moving in the right direction and promoting a model of global economic and technological interaction for all.

But the West has fallen into the trap of its own success. It literally believed that the "end of history "had arrived and tried to freeze history at the moment of its triumph. Thus, after a certain point in time, China's economic and technological rise began to be seen as a threat simply because it challenged the West's metaphysical reading of itself as the planet's permanent "natural ruler".

At the same time, on the other side of Eurasia, with the same paranoid logic, the West treated Russia as "permanently defeated". Thus, it has promoted the expansion of North Atlantic Treaty Organization by placing Russia in a suffocating siege, which is causing rising tensions in Europe. The situation became even more dangerous after the United States decided to pursue a "double containment" policy targeting Russia and China.

In addition, the prevailing theories regarding the nature of war, such as the various conceptions of hybrid warfare and gray zone operations, have led to the view that war extends to trade, the advancement of technology and even cultural relations.

As a result, the contemporary competition between the great powers has become "holistic". Thus, Chinese investments in Europe or the promotion of Chinese 5G technologies to European countries are viewed as "aggressive" actions by the sinophobic circles that have expanding influence in Western societies. This sense of "total antagonism" reinforces the bipolar character of the international system.

For some Westerners, it does not matter if China and Russia really plan or want to operate in this way, namely to function as a unified "Eurasian pole", as they are bearing in mind a fictional construction of a Beijing-Moscow geopolitical axis. This imaginary reality is spreading more and more in the consciousness of Western societies and threatens to act as a factor of increasing tensions and conflicts around the planet.

Thus, the growing animosity between Western Europe and Russia may, in a way, spread like a virus to Western Europe-China relations, if Russia and China are treated as organic parts of a geopolitical unity. Similarly, tensions between the US and China could spread to Western Europe-China relations.

In conclusion, 50 years after Nixon's visit to Beijing, there is a tendency to reverse the geopolitical results that have emerged from it. Thus, there is a risk of a rigid bipolar system being formed, which would be unstable and dangerous. But this is not a given development. It can be avoided. We need a new opening of the Western world to China, which will lead the global system to a functional multipolarity rather than a dysfunctional bipolarity.

But this time it should be Western Europe that takes this step. Western Europe is the one that needs a multipolar world first and foremost. A bipolar world would deprive Europe of its autonomy and trap it between the millstones of the great Eurasian powers and the US. Europe needs technological and economic cooperation with China, especially Chinese investment and access to the vast Chinese market.

And just as tension and hostility between global actors can be transmitted and augmented within a bipolar international system, so can normalization within a multipolar system. An enlarged and productive relationship between Western Europe and China would very likely act as a mitigating factor in relations between Russia and Western Europe.

In particular, an enlarged relationship between China and Western Europe would strengthen Europe's strategic autonomy vis-a-vis the US, which is particularly important today, as the US does not seem to have a structured strategy and is possibly influenced by dangerously irrational factors.

Efforts to secure a Western Europe-China rapprochement would enhance the planet's multipolar functionality, and consequently reduce the possibilities of the creation of a rigid bipolarity.

The author is a professor of geopolitics and director of War Theory and Analysis Sector at the Hellenic Military Academy. The author contributed this article to China Watch, a think tank powered by China Daily. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. Contact the editor at editor@chinawatch.cn