According to the Australian Financial Review, Australia, the United States, India and Japan are reportedly discussing the formation of a competing project for China’s Belt and Road initiative. For several months, rival programs have been announced. Japan has developed the most tangible projects in Asia since 2016, and Tokyo is increasing its collaboration with India. Together, the two countries launched the Asia-Africa Growth Corridor concept in May 2017. They would be joined by Australia and the United States to develop another new Silk Roads project.
Facing this new project, what should be the position of the European Union? Several European leaders have expressed reservations about the Belt and Road initiative. For example, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel at the Munich Security Conference expressed some concerns about China’s predominance in global affairs, and asked Europeans to launch their own initiative.
The European Union could be tempted to join the “Quad” formed by the United States, Japan, India and Australia for an alternative to the BRI. But this coalition is fragile. It is not clear the United States will get heavily involved in this program, as President Trump has disengaged his country from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Furthermore, Japan’s position remains ambiguous, Tokyo could still join the BRI; some Japanese companies are already working on China’s new Silk Roads. India’s refusal to join the BRI is mainly motivated by political reasons and its poor relations with Pakistan, an enthusiastic member of the Chinese program. Finally, this hypothetical project has fallen far behind the Chinese initiative whose first achievements are already visible.
The proliferation of competing projects could lead to a phenomenon of overcapacity with the duplication of infrastructure in Asia. Moreover, these rival projects would lead to greater instability in Asia; Asian countries would be pressured to chose which major power to turn to. The new Silk Roads would then become a political project, not a commercial one.
Since its launch, China has invited the entire international community to join in the “Belt and Road” initiative”, which is still open to all nations.
The European Union, like other states, must seize this opportunity and prefer cooperation with China, and other participants like Pakistan, to rivalry.
China, today, is the only power to have a global vision of the world; and of course China is very ambitious, while other powers are tempted by protectionism.
To better defend its interests and assert itself against China, the European Union must fully participate in the BRI and must formulate its won recommendations.
The European Union, like other powers, is concerned that China is using the BRI to export its own regulations and standards, for example with the creation of Chinese commercial courts dedicated to the BRI. The creation of rival initiatives will only accentuate this trend. Cooperation, on the contrary, would allow the European Union to better defend its interests by sharing its experience with China.
It is therefore necessary that the European Union asserts itself fully as a partner of China for the Belt and Road initiative and does not hesitate to propose joint projects; that’s what China expects from a great power like the European Union.