Towards a New Global Order? Ambitions, Scope and Challenges of China’s Belt and Road Initiative

Ok, well actually it was Germany’s leading foreign affairs think tank, DGAP, who had invited me to start looking into this issue in order to give a presentation at an event they were organizing in Moscow last
December. I accepted the invitation, although I was a bit sceptical about the
whole issue. I did not really believe that cooperation between the EU, China and
Russia would be possible in Central Asia. I was quite interested to learn about the other views from the other
participants at this event, and so
accepted the invitation, and so I thought at preparing this And initially I looked only at the possibility
of cooperation between the EU and China in Central Asia. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that actually the possibility of cooperation seemed much more feasible than I have thought. In fact, the EU has now officially confirmed that it wishes to cooperate with China
on connectivity in Central Asia in its new strategy for Central Asia, which was
officially endorsed by the Foreign Affairs Council of the EU this week, so
last Monday. Now, when it comes to trilateral cooperation between China, Russia and the EU in Central Asia, I mean, that is different matter this is something, really, I believe,
for a distant future. So I focus mostly on bilateral cooperation, which in itself
is already challenging enough, but this is, I would say, more feasible at least
in the short to medium term. Now, how does my research relate
to the Belt and Road initiative. Well, if it weren’t for China
and its Belt and Road Initiative, no one would probably have asked me to look
into the question of possible cooperation between China, the EU and
Russia in Central Asia. So, when it comes to China’s ambitious goal of connecting China overland with Europe, it’s obvious when you look at a
map that the European Union and Russia are both indispensable stakeholders for
this continental connection to successfully materialize. At the same time, both the European Union
and Russia have developed policy responses to China’s Belt and Road initiative
and these policy responses they do reveal an interest in cooperating. So, now the EU and Russia seem to share an interest in advancing connectivity along the so-called Silk Road economic belt, which is the land component
of China’s Belt and Road initiative. And this land component includes two corridors
that go through Central Asia. So there is the new Eurasian land bridge,
which passes through Kazakhstan, and then there is the China – Central Asia corridor,
which passes basically through all of the Central
Asian countries. Well, I would say that when it comes to connectivity it is clear that all sides would stand to profits. So, if China, Russia and the EU would agree to join forces and cooperate on connectivity in Central Asia. In fact, it is mainly the Central Asian states
that would profit, but I would argue that this depends on the
terms on which the cooperation would proceed, which is in my view the main challenge for possible cooperation between all the sides. So, on the one hand, Russia and China are trying to carve out a new world order which is less based on Western and liberal values and norms, and which is more in line with
how they envision the world’s. The EU from its side, it is increasingly interested
to cooperate with China in particular on advancing connectivity along the New Silk Road, but only if this proceeds on a number of conditions, which are clearly very much Western oriented. So it is more in line
with the Western Way of doing and seeing things. So, there you can see that there is a clear tension there. Now, under the framework of the EU China connectivity platform, which was particularly set up to facilitate possible cooperation between the EU and
China on connectivity. So, in this framework, the EU has demanded that projects that are
implemented under this framework abide by market-based principles
and international norms. And that the EU and China should both promote norms, such as transparency, openness and a level playing field for all the projects, which they implement
jointly under this framework. And this is really a crucial condition for the EU to cooperate with China, this is also very clearly outlined
in the EU’s connectivity strategy, which was endorsed and launched in September Interestingly, China has accepted these terms, although arguably very reluctantly. It remains to be seen now how this will translate
into concrete cooperation on the grounds. Because apart from having a diverging view and a diverging approach to connectivity, the EU and China also have a diverging view and approach
to development more generally. So, when it comes to development cooperation,
the European Union focuses on inclusive and sustainable development. The EU believes
that development can only be durable when it is accompanied by improvements
in governance. In contrast, China focuses mostly on enabling economic
growth through the improvement of infrastructure. Unlike the European Union,
China does not focus on improving governance issues, because it adheres to the principle of non-interference
and the primacy of national sovereignty of states. As you can imagine, these diverging approaches to development
raise a number of questions, as to how the corporation will proceed
in practical terms So, for this paper, I examined what impact the EU’s and China’s assistance have on
the ground in Central Asia. So, mostly in terms of improving people’s livelihoods and in terms of contributing
to sustainable development of the region. When it comes to the EU’s assistance,
I found that the impact is rather low. So, so far it seems the EU has failed to have a
tangible impact on the ground in Central Asia. Most of the EU’s development assistance to Central Asia in the last decades has gone to rural development, education, support to the social and private-sector, sustainable
development and environmental protection. So, the EU’s assistance in these fields has delivered some positive results, but overall in terms of the long term impact on the ground and in terms of increased socio-economic development
and reducing poverty, it seems that the impact is rather limited. In contrast, China’s assistance to Central Asia is much more pervasive and it does have a tangible impact on the grounds. However, what I found there is that the positive effects of China’s assistance in Central Asia are offset by the negative implications
of its increased involvement. So, what has been the positive impact
of China’s assistance? Well, you could argue that
China has contributed to improving living standards in Central Asia, thanks to the improved infrastructure, in terms of roads, but also electricity
infrastructure. When it comes to the negative implications, we’re talking
about the increasing financial and economic dependency of all five Central
Asian states on China. Interestingly, compared to the EU’s assistance, China’s assistance is perceived as being more attractive
by the Central Asian regime’s, which increases these countries’ receptiveness
to China’s assistance. The Central Asian governments are first and foremost attracted by the fact that China’s
assistance does not involve the sort of conditionalities that the EU’s and other western donor’s assistance attach to their aid delivery, such as Human Rights conditions, economic management, good governance performance and so on. Now, nevertheless, it’s very important to emphasize
that among the broader population in Central Asia, there are concerns about the negative impact of China’s assistance on the region and
especially about the lack of sustainability of China’s assistance and investments. And there you could
argue, that the so-called win-win situation that China aspires to create in Central Asia seems more to be like
a win-win-loss situation.

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