International Order Based on the Rule of Law

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On 25 of January the Warsaw Office of the European Council on Foreign Relations organized a one-day conference titled International Order Based on the Rule of Law. Cooperation between the EU, Japan and the U.S. under new circumstances. The event gathered high-level experts, decision makers, politicians and diplomats from Europe and Japan who had a chance to exchange their views on the current challenges to the international liberal order from the European and Japanese perspectives. In three discussion sessions, we focused in particular on the issue of democratisation in Europe and Asia, authoritarian consolidation, and the future of international trade. As the final point in the conference’s agenda, ECFR hosted a public debate on China's new posture in the international political architecture.

The event gathered around 60 experts including Rumi Aoyama, Charlotte Flindt Pedersen, Caroline de Gruyter, François Godement, Mette Holm, Janka Oertel, Maaike Okano-Heijmans, Tomoki Takeda and Christoph Stefes.

Featuring a second edition this year, the conference’s main goal is to provide a platform for the open dialogue between Japanese and European experts and policy-makers. The project succeeded in increasing mutual understanding and contributed to a strengthened European engagement with Japan in a period of important changes in international politics. The project enabled influential European and Asian stakeholders to identify potential areas for cooperation between the two regions. The format of the conference was conductive to productive discussion and would certainly be worth continuing in the following edition next year.

The conference featured a broad intellectual exchange on each of the topics, touching upon regional issues and characteristics of political processes, as well as building them into a wider global context and evaluating their interdependence with current most important international phenomena. The main findings from the discussions are as follows.

Preparing for the fourth wave of democratisation: lessons from Europe and Asia

  • Globally, democratisation is halting and often accompanied by backsliding, while authoritarian regimes have grown more repressive and bold. However, most democracies have proven remarkably stable.

  • Democracy promotion often suffered from naïveté, incompetence and lack of appreciation of local context. It has to be more carefully targeted to countries where conditions are favourable.

  • Democratisation is by necessity a long process, as it depends on creation of linkages from economic, social and cultural exchanges. Furthermore, it takes significant time for transition to bring fruits and they are particularly vulnerable in the meantime.

  • Japan’s post-war democratic transition depended on a set of interrelated factors: favourable, liberal international environment, elite consensus on foreign policy orientation, prosperity due to international trade, beneficial interplay between elite and grassroots initiatives and a skilful merger of Western institutions with traditional values.

  • The record of newly democratising states in South-East Asia is decidedly mixed. While they exhibit basic features of democracy, they are often personalistic, not competitive, do not provide the rule of law or fail to uphold human rights.

  • It is important to distinguish rule of law with an instrumental use of law or “rule by law”. Selective use of law contradicts the principle of the rule of law.

Strategies of consolidation in China and Russia: Authoritarian evolution and what it means for the rest of the world

  • Though both China and Russia are authoritarian, their domestic systems and the extent of control over their respective societies greatly differ. This has significant consequences for the rest of the world, as much of their foreign policies are dependent on domestic politics.

  • Both states have integrated into the liberal international order asymmetrically, gaining its benefits without democratising or respecting human rights. Western countries failed to draw clear lines on these issues, which allowed Russia and China to undermine universalistic basis of the liberal international order.

  • China is trying to position itself on the centre stage of global, while tightening authoritarian control over its society. China has abandoned its “low profile” approach and seeks to extend its influence by military power, as well as economic and institutional statecraft. This way, it seeks to change the international order from within. Furthermore, China increases its leverage over European partners, including via illiberal parties. Taken together, these trends will lead to increased international competition.

  • European response must take into account the breadth of Chinese expansion and emphasise cohesion, via such mechanisms as investment screening. Europe has to be more assertive in defending the fundamental principles of the rule of law and liberal democracy within its borders and beyond, the state of decline and needs to find a new means to ensure its durability.

  • The Russian regime is unable to exert full control over its society and is based on manipulation and targeted containment instead. Despite outward appearances, it is not consolidating but rather on the state of decline and needs to find a new means to ensure its durability.

The future of free trade after the TPP and TTIP: measuring the consequences of protectionist trend and restating the case for free trade

  • The events of last several years, including but not limited to Donald Trump’s election, have forced a reevaluation of trade liberalisation and its political viability. Benefits of trade agreements were often overestimated, while their distribution effects were not properly addressed. As a result, support for free trade has dropped significantly.

  • Neither the US nor the EU can act as advocates for new comprehensive free trade agreements. There is no political will in the US for trade liberalisation, while the EU lack strategic vision. Furthermore, the European Commission has lost credibility in European societies by ignoring concerns about Investor-State Dispute Settlement, making any ambitious free trade agreement politically not viable.

  • The EU is seeking new approaches to free trade. It seeks to maintain dialogue on the topic with the US and has nuanced its earlier, somewhat naive support for free trade. However, the options of the European Commission are restrained by the EU’s member states.

  • Japan’s trade strategy remains committed to WTO’s multilateralism, but it has embraced regional initiatives. It is now focused on creation of and APEC-wide trade arrangement under the umbrella of FTAAP, with participation in initiatives such as RCEP or TPP-11 as stepping stones. Meanwhile, it upholds bilateral economic relationship with the US and seeks to weather the current bout of protectionism there.

  • China remains a challenge for the trade regime. It undermines Western and European standards in many fields, such as transparency, reciprocity and environmental protection, and seeks influence through various cooperation formats. It is a daunting task to enforce these standards and balance Chinese influence, particularly in Asia and Africa, while simultaneously constructively engaging China where cooperation is possible.

China at the Gates: European and Japanese perspectives on China's new global posture

  • Perceptions of China in Europe have shifted over the last decade. European policymakers are no longer naive about the possibility of convergence and democratisation in China. Investment, particularly coordinated acquisitions of European high-tech companies, has become the main issue in bilateral relations. Cohesion and the rule of reciprocity are the best way to deal with China and are being adopted by the EU. Investment screening is an important tool that can regulate Chinese presence in Europe.

  • China is increasingly present in Central and Eastern Europe under the auspices of 16+1 format. EU member-states use this format to increase their leverage in Brussels, but the their results of cooperation with China are decidedly mixed. Member states in the region do not coordinate their response to Chinese offers, weakening their negotiating hand. A common strategy is thus necessary.

  • Mutual perceptions of China and Japan remain negative but are no longer hostile. Bilateral relations are seen as important, but Japanese citizens distrust China.

  • Japan is seen positively in the South-East Asia, contrary to China, and is in positions to propose counter-propositions to Chinese initiatives. The EU also enjoys a good image in the region,

  • Japan plays a balancing game, cautiously engaging China while offering alternatives to its projects.

  • More analytical effort and expertise on China in Poland is needed to formulate an effective policy and increase Polish leverage.