Amidst all the doom and gloom in this part of the world, much of which is closely associated with a global scale shift in power as the East rises and the West continues its decline, it is an odd paradox that ‘peripheral’ places in Europe are pinning their hopes of recovery on investment from China. In a fascinating article in The New York Times today, some sense for the scale of China’s potential impact in Europe is provided: it is buying ports and infrastructure, offering credit-lines to struggling states, and promising investments in science parks and the like. What China has is a massive stash of cash which it needs to invest somewhere. Famously, Africa has already been seeing some of that cash flowing in. Now Europe looks set to ‘gain’. And Ireland is in the mixer. There’s talk of an “investment gateway to Europe” in Athlone and no doubt many other plans in the pipeline.
All of this is all the more remarkable because it disrupts many of our rather taken-for-granted notions of what globalization means. China, for example, was always more of a target of globalization than a maker: it is where so much investment flowed from North America and Europe to take advantage of low labour costs. Investment flowed there, not from there to here. Not now. And once we also recognize the new place in the global economy that a country such as Brazil occupies [see here for some commentary on that], we can start to detect a truly new geographical character to what we know as globalization. Interestingly, we are starting to see some officials in the IMF talking about what they refer to as ‘the new globalization’: a globalization in which the so-called BRIC states (Brazil, Russia, India, and China) play a much more leading role; and a globalization in which the old trade triad (US-EU-Japan) is no longer as dominant. How Ireland sees itself fitting into the new globalization is anyone’s guess right now, but we can be sure that an answer to that question will begin to emerge soon. Keep an eye on Athlone, for starters!