Asia's economic rise is shifting the world's political balance. At a recent conference in Berlin, a panel discussed the implications for Germany and Europe. One thing was clear - modesty is in order.
"Politics begins with a sense of reality." These were big words spoken by Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on Wednesday in Berlin. About 10 minutes later, he warned that although Germany might be important in Europe, it was comparatively less influential on the global scale.
Westerwelle, from Germany's liberal Free Democratic Party, was talking about foreign affairs at a conference entitled "Asia's New Powers - Values, Economy, World Order" organized by the Christian Democrats in the German Bundestag. Diplomats and business people brought glamour to the podium of CDU/CSU foreign affairs experts.
'We are no longer setting the pace'
In view of the shifting of the global balance, the panel's tone was unusually modest. "We are no longer setting the pace," Westerwelle pointed out.
The fact that the title of the congress spoke of "Asia's new powers" was a sign of respect for countries that used to be categorized as "developing" - China and India, for example, but also Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
This new sense of modesty comes from the awareness not only that India and China are rapidly catching up with the industrialized world in economic terms but that they and other regional powers are becoming more influential on the global political stage.
Westerwelle cited a series of statistics: GDP per capita has tripled in Asia since 1999 and the Chinese middle class is growing by some 15 million people every year. He pointed out that the continent's young populations meant growth was considerably more dynamic than in aging Europe.
India and China are going to dominate the 21st century
In 1900, 21 percent of the global population lived in Europe but experts expect only 7.6 percent to be living on the continent by 2050. Europe's share of trade and investment is also shrinking.
A multi-polar world
Westerwelle said that we now lived in a multi-polar world and consequently there had to be a shift of priorities. He said that the changes must also be reflected in international bodies, such as the United Nations Security Council, whose structure harked back to the post-Second World War order that had been overhauled.
The new global balance of power was the reason behind the Berlin congress. The CDU/CSU faction in the German Bundestag presented its new strategy paper for Asia. Philipp Mißfelder, foreign policy spokesman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group, outlined the party's understanding of the congress subheading's "values, economy and world order."
Values were also discussed. The speakers highlighted the importance of religious freedom and said they wanted to do more against the persecution of Christians.
Some of the participants even went as far as to call German businesspeople abroad representatives of European values.
However it was pointed out that it was not necessarily the case that all countries shared the same values. Mißfelder said China had shown that economic success was not necessarily linked to democracy. Joachim Pfeiffer, the parliamentary group's spokesman for economic affairs, said in his conclusion that Germany's economic exchange with China now equaled that with the US.
The panel generally agreed that Europe would only have a greater influence on the world if it was united. Westerwelle said it was "not only the answer to a dark chapter in our history but also to challenges posed by globalization and competition."
Author: Matthias von Hein / act
Editor: Sarah Berning