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Interview: former French diplomat Hubert Védrine on China and a West 'in disarray'

Former Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, author of 'History Strikes Back,' offers a realist view on a central challenge for Europe and the United States: the rise of China.

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A: Partly. The European states have all pursued nationalistic, colonial policies and used force in the past. They now nurture the illusion that these policies are over for everyone. The fall of the [Berlin] wall gave way to absurd interpretations. The US thought it had won, history was over since there were no disagreements any longer. The European had a Kantian interpretation. Even now, the Europeans have a hard time getting back into the strategic debate. My view is a minority one here. When I was foreign minister, I told my socialist friends that we were not an international community yet, and power struggles still existed. They told me I was a cynic. I’m more comfortable with the American debate. I’m interested in what Kissinger, Scowcroft, Fukuyama, and what some neocons say. They are relevant, whereas the European thinking is sometimes irrelevant. With Americans, even when we disagree, we know what the discussion is about. European speeches, especially those of the commission, the parliament or other European institutions, sometimes make you wonder what world they are living in.

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Q: Obviously, the rise of China concerns both Europe and the US, centrally.

A: China’s rise is unsettling. It was also foreseeable. Chinese energy, liberated by [Paramount leader] Deng Xiaoping and multiplied by the number of inhabitants, is very worrying. If there were 50 million Chinese people, we wouldn’t be discussing China’s rise. We should have anticipated that a long time ago. Jiang Zemin feared the West’s reaction to the point that he coined the expression ‘Pacific emergence.’ China is now in a position to say ‘No,’ which is evidence of the end of the West’s monopoly.

Also, let us not forget that the final compromise within the WTO [World Trade Organization] was blocked by India. This is a huge challenge for the West, and the different approaches taken by the West. The Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld approach is not that different from the colonial powers’ approach in the 19th century, which was working at the time but is not working now. The neocon approach of bringing democracy everywhere, relayed in France by [Foreign Minister Bernard] Kouchner under the concept of democratic intervention, doesn’t work, either. We can’t even manage to change a dictatorship like Burma.

Those who think that the West remains at the center of everything and is still able to prevail by force are wrong. Of course, in the end, our ideas still prevail, as Fareed Zakaria points out in his book, “The Post-American World.” Western ideas will become everyone’s ideas. These ideas, like the market economy, are now used against us by players like China. Likewise, our idea of democracy will gradually prevail everywhere, which does not mean the rest of the world will align with us. India’s attitude in the WTO is proof of that. They can now say ‘No’ to us. So, the West’s main concern is to manage the global evolution from global domination to relative leadership. To achieve that, we must be both very intelligent, and coordinate, especially Europe and the US.

Q. How do you appraise the different US and European approaches?