Asia is indispensable for West to revitalize
Published: Nov 28, 2022 07:06 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui

Illustration: Liu Rui

It has been less than a year since German Chancellor Olaf Scholz taken office, and the world has felt the changes in German diplomacy. In November, he visited China, went to Indonesia to attend the G20 summit and visited Vietnam and Singapore on this occasion all in a very short interval. For a major Western country, this is indeed very rare.

Scholz said last week in Berlin that "an increasingly multipolar world is arranging itself right now, fundamentally anew." He said that for years, countries in North America and Europe had enjoyed a combination of stable growth, low inflation and high employment rates, but this was an "economic exception that cannot be expected to last any longer." He called on Germany and other European nations to embrace more trade with emerging economies. 

Scholz has paid consecutive visits to Asia, which is of course due to the need of national interests. It is just that today's change in Germany diplomacy shows the general trend of the world - Asia is indispensable if the West wants to continue to develop and prosper.

The West has experienced large-scale deindustrialization for decades, and Asia and the West have formed a relationship of production and consumption. But Germany is different. It has not engaged in deindustrialization. Germany's manufacturing industry is still developed and its proportion in the national economy is as high as 24 percent. Therefore, the significance of Germany's diplomatic changes is that Asia is not only the world's factory, but also becoming the world's most important consumer market. Asia's role to the West and the world is changing essentially. Germany feels such changes and it will not be the only country to do so.

The proportion of the Asian economy in the world has been growing rapidly. In 2020, the Asian economy accounted for more than 50 percent of the world for the first time. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the West's high dependence on Asia.

The rise of Asia, with developing countries as its main body, indicates that the West is losing its dominant position in global politics and economics.

Scholz's attendance at the G20 in Indonesia is also a reflection of such trend. The G20 leaders' meeting mechanism was established under the background of the 2008 financial crisis in the US which triggered the European sovereign debt crisis and the global economic crisis. It was also the first time in history that a large number of emerging countries have become founding members and worked with developed countries to solve global economic problems. Prior to that, the G7 annual meetings determined global economic affairs. But the crisis in 2008 made the West realize that they were unable to solve it alone and must join hands with emerging countries, of which more than a quarter are Asian countries. After more than 10 years, Asia continues to make great strides, while the West is still suffering from problems and has lost its vitality.

Scholz's diplomatic change has also sent a positive signal to the world. It shows how a Western country can get along with a rapidly developing Asia.

China, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and Germany represent different civilizations, and they also have obvious differences in political systems and values. However, they could communicate in an equal and respectful manner, seeking common ground while reserving differences. 

As an important political figure in the West, Scholz certainly knows the problems of Europe and the US, and he also knows that there is no solution, otherwise he would not have said the "economic exception that cannot be expected to last any longer." He is trying to work closely with rapidly developing Asia to find a way out of this predicament. Under such circumstances, He is no longer in a position to dictate to Asians on what to do. As a fairly pragmatic politician, Scholz should not only accept Asia's rise, but also deal with Asia in an equal and respectful manner.

Some people may think Scholz's trip to Asia has a special factor, which is the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. They think that after Germany can no longer rely on Russia's stable and cheap energy sources, its manufacturing industry is difficult to maintain its competitive edge and has to turn to Asia. But objectively speaking, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is only a trigger. The fundamental reason is the trend of "the East is rising, and the West is declining." The conflict was last straw for the West. And historically, relations between Russia and Europe have experienced ups and downs, with cooperation and confrontation intertwined. 

For Germany, the conflict is only an accidental factor and will not last for a long time. But "the East is rising, and the West is declining" is a historical trend. Therefore, self-reflection and seeking a solution to difficulties contributed to Scholz's diplomatic charge to Asia.

The author is a research fellow at the China Institute, Fudan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn