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Geopolitical Сompetition for the Global South

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Photo: For the first time in the history of relations with China, the European Union threw down the gauntlet. Source: Collage The Gaze.
Photo: For the first time in the history of relations with China, the European Union threw down the gauntlet. Source: Collage The Gaze.

For the first time in the history of relations with China, the European Union threw down the gauntlet, questioning the importance for Europe of the Chinese project "One Belt, One Road," which is actually a logistics and transportation project in name only, but in fact is a project to spread Chinese influence around the world.

The EU held a summit with 20 countries in Asia and Africa to formulate alternative development models to China's. The day before, China gathered representatives from more than 130 countries at a summit dedicated to the 10th anniversary of China's global investment plan, One Belt, One Road. Instead, the EU held an alternative EU Global Gateways Forum in Brussels, which was attended by, among others, the heads of state and government of Bangladesh, Senegal, Namibia, and Moldova.

According to the European Commission, the Global Gateway is a €300 billion EU plan to develop international relations in the digital, energy, and transportation sectors. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping presented his own investment program, which in the broader geopolitical context is almost an alternative to the established world order with US hegemony.

This position of China has already been supported by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The EU was about ten years late with its own initiative. Competing with Chinese influence will now be quite difficult, especially in Africa and Asia.

After all, the Chinese transnational influence project includes more than 150 countries and more than 30 international organizations. 

According to the Green Finance & Development Center, the capitalization of the One Belt, One Road project has already reached $1 trillion over the past decade. 

At the new summit in Beijing, the participating countries signed agreements for another $97.2 billion in sectors such as green energy, logistics, and industrial development.

So far, this project is opposed by a "crude" European project with $320 billion and 20 participating countries.

But the EU has a powerful trump card up its sleeve: technology.

That is why the European forum was attended by representatives of large multinational companies, including Orange, Allianz, Alstom, Danone, Enel, Siemens, and Telefonica. 

The topics of discussion included green energy, education and science, critical raw materials, transportation corridors, healthcare products, and digital infrastructure. 

So far, the EU has signed only two memorandums of understanding with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, according to which the EU should gain access to critical raw materials as part of the creation of the strategic Trans-African Corridor, a railroad project that should connect Angola, the DRC and Zambia to transport critical raw materials and minerals across the Atlantic (inland DRC and Zambia will have access to Angola's ports in the Atlantic Ocean).

Ukraine's Factor

By the way, Ukraine is part of the EU's Global Gateway program under the Eastern Partnership Economic and Investment Plan, in particular in terms of "investment in sustainable transport, access to finance, trade integration, sustainable energy, decarbonization, climate, environment, digital transition, health resilience, human capital. 

The flagship of this project is "energy efficiency investments that have been mobilized to improve the energy efficiency of public buildings and modernize district heating systems across the country as a contribution to responding to climate change and improving energy security." 

A look at the map reveals China's gigantic plan for the Central and South Asian region. 

By establishing control over Afghanistan, China is connecting its network of influence in Central Asia into a single puzzle, but even more importantly, it is forming a full-fledged regional conglomerate of its most promising allies Pakistan and Iran, gaining reliable land access to the Persian Gulf, including its oil. 

And these are no longer risky routes through partially controlled territories, but a land-based construct protected from maritime superpowers. In addition, China gains access to the Indian Ocean through ports in Pakistan and the most convenient logistics with its projects in Africa (Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan). The Chinese are also taking their key rival in Asia, India, in their pincers.

Combining this geopolitical puzzle, China is turning from a land-based empire to a land-sea empire, and Afghanistan itself is becoming a middle ground in this new model of China's pan-Asian dominance - a Hartland, to use the terminology of British historian Halford Mackinder.

At the moment, China's maritime ambitions are being successfully restrained by the Americans in the Pacific Ocean with the help of Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea. Beijing has only the islands in the South China Sea to gain. But with the Chinese access to the Indian Ocean, the entire architecture of global security is being globally restructured: the Euro-Atlantic defense alliance in the form of NATO is becoming secondary and the security of Europe itself is being transferred to the axial continental power, Germany. The German-centered format of the EU provides for the stabilization of the EU's relations with Russia and the alienation of the UK. 

And Euro-Atlanticism itself is being replaced by the Indo-Pacific security zone, which is becoming key for both the United States and its main ally in Australia. With the UK joining this alliance. This explains the hasty creation of the AUKUS (USA, UK, Australia) bloc. As British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stated, "This is a historic opportunity for our three countries and our allies and partners to defend our shared values and support security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region." We should expect India to join this format.

Ukraine As a Superhub and a Possible Compromise

Why could the option of extending a new branch of the Silk Road through Ukraine be important for the EU? 

In this case, the "last stop" on the way of Chinese goods to the European Union will not be authoritarian Belarus, which is completely under Moscow's influence, but Ukraine, a democratic country with European integration prospects.

Sooner or later, the Chinese "One Belt, One Road" route through Russia and Belarus will come under sanctions, either by the US and/or the EU.

However, it will not be possible to quickly switch to other models of global trade development and minimize the Chinese factor in the short term.

Launching the Spice Route to supply Indian goods to the EU and the Global Gateway from Africa to the EU will take decades.

During this period, Ukraine could become a kind of "link" between China and the EU market.

This is the same compromise that could emerge by 2050 between the world's key geopolitical players: the EU, the US, and China.

Relatively speaking, it guarantees the preservation of a certain flow of goods from China to Europe, provided that Ukraine, not Belarus, becomes the distribution hub at its final stage.

In the context of diversifying trade routes, it is beneficial for China to develop two directions: through Iran to Azerbaijan and then to Georgia and through the ports of this country to Ukraine; through Iran to Turkey and then across the Black Sea to Odesa and the ports of the Ukrainian Black Sea region. The maritime part of the logistics is ferry service.

In this coordinate system, the global compromise between the EU and China can also become an important security factor in the Black Sea for Ukrainian ports and an effective tool to minimize the Russian threat in the region.

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