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China, Geopolitical Rivalry and the Future of Work in Europe

The editorial for Futures of Work #20 importantly emphasizes the links between the geopolitics of interstate rivalries, technological transitions and their consequences for economic and social development, including the nature of work and its institutional regulation. In so doing it implicitly echoes aspects of Chris Freeman’s work on the relation between long waves of capitalist development, the politics and geopolitics of technological change, and, as is often ultimately the case, war. As with the global wars of the twentieth century and the subsequent hot wars that were corollaries of the first Cold War, we seem once again to confront an inherently dangerous era of critical transformation.

At the time of writing, the most immediate concern is the rivalry between the United States and Russia over the future of Ukraine, with other European countries also involved by virtue of history, geography and NATO membership. However, it is the geoeconomic and geopolitical nexus linking China, Europe (EU and non-EU) and the US that is likely to have the most significant lasting consequences for the future of Europe. This is not merely because of China’s far greater global economic ‘weight’ than Russia’s, but because, unlike Russia, it is central to global production and consumption networks and has transnational business corporations that now rank alongside those of the US and Japan as the principal sources of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). China, in other words, is decisive for the future of the global economy in ways that Russia is not.

 

Chinese investment in Europe

What, then, are the key dimensions through which the geopolitics of China’s growing global presence is likely to impact the future of work in Europe? While cumulative direct investment by