China’s presence on international stage grows as EU’s declines, new index finds

By on 19/12/2016 | Updated on 27/01/2022
China sees enormous growth in its international profile

China is seeing enormous growth in its international profile and influence whilst Europe stagnates, according to a global ranking system that measures countries’ visibility and activity on the international stage.

In just one year China has climbed two places, from fourth in 2014 to second – just behind the USA – in 2015. Germany takes third place in 2015, while the UK has fallen from second to fourth place. China’s metrics score increased by 7% this year, while the UK’s dropped by 2.4%.

The Elcano Global Presence Index, produced by Spain’s Elcano Royal Institute of strategic and international studies, uses metrics to assess 90 nations’ economic, military and ‘soft’ relationships and global reach. Economic indicators include exports and foreign investment; military factors include the number of troops posted overseas and the ability to deploy forces around the world; and ‘soft’ presence is measured using data on issues such as migration, tourism, overseas students, science publishing and culture.

“In general terms, European countries continue to lose pace, and as a result, this year’s global presence for the European Union has decreased”, says the report. The Spanish think tank worked out a hypothetical score for the EU, based on the combined global presence of individual member states minus their points for “intra-European presence”.

The US still has by far the biggest global presence – as it has since 1990 – but the share of global presence held by both the US and the EU is declining, while countries in Asia and the Pacific are rapidly gaining larger shares.

Daniel Fiott, security and defence editor at the EU Institute for Security Studies, said at an event organized by Elcano in Brussels on Friday that one of the factors inhibiting Europe is its attitude to defence and security. “Defence is still not seen as that important in Europe,” he said, adding that while the EU is “a superpower at drafting documents”, this doesn’t always lead to action.

Brexit is likely to have an impact here, said Fiott. He pointed out that once the UK leaves the EU, 80% of NATO’s funding will come from non-EU countries. “Who will take up the banner for the EU?” he asked.

Germany is one of very few mature European economies still recording sustained growth in terms of global presence; but while it exerts greater influence within the EU, the UK trumps Germany on the world stage.

Fiott suggested that Europe’s declining global presence, alongside growing nationalistic sentiment within the region, casts doubt over the future of its place in the world. “Are we at a point in history where Europe really does retreat? Or will it act? And how will it act?” he said.

Giovanni Grevi, a senior fellow at think tank the European Policy Centre, said that the US is facing a period of instability – at least while the new Donald Trump administration takes hold – but China could be expected to show “consistent development of an increasingly connective and connected presence in the world”.

Grevi said that Trump’s ‘buy American’ rhetoric and his promise to scrap the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) signal a reversal of the past eight years of US foreign policy, potentially reducing the country’s global presence. Trump’s win in the presidential election has had a “polarising effect on the international stage”, said Grevi, and is likely to lead to a certain amount of turmoil.

China, meanwhile, has expanded and diversified its presence in the world over the past two to three years – and it has the money to continue investing, Grevi added.

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See also:

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About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

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