New EU plan eyes syn­ergy with China

Global Times - - Front Page - By Ge­orge N. Tzo­gopou­los

The EU is a global player. With its role be­ing largely eco­nomic, it seeks to ex­pand its pres­ence in sev­eral re­gions of the world. Asia is among them. While the EU Global Strat­egy makes 19 ref­er­ences to Asia while dis­cussing the prospect of a di­rect con­nec­tion be­tween Eu­ro­pean pros­per­ity and Asian se­cu­rity, its con­tent is rather vague. To pro­vide more de­tails and clear goals about the Eu­ro­pean ap­proach vis-à-vis Asia, the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion and the High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for for­eign af­fairs and se­cu­rity pol­icy worked on pre­par­ing the rel­e­vant doc­u­ment.

As a re­sult, a joint com­mu­ni­ca­tion aimed at con­nect­ing Europe and Asia was re­cently pre­sented in Brus­sels. This com­mu­ni­ca­tion an­tic­i­pates a deep­en­ing of ties in the com­ing years and sees the EU as a driver for con­nec­tiv­ity. In par­tic­u­lar, it links the de­sired con­nec­tiv­ity to en­vi­ron­men­tal stan­dards, sev­eral types of net­works rang­ing from in­fra­struc­ture to en­ergy and dig­i­tal projects, as well as to in­ter­na­tional rules and reg­u­la­tions. Among other things, the EU hopes to ac­quire a level play­ing field for its com­pa­nies in do­ing busi­ness in Asia. In this re­gard, the EU-China rail con­nec­tion is dis­cussed be­cause “com­pet­i­tive neu­tral­ity would need to be ad­dressed.”

China is not men­tioned ex­ten­sively in the joint com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Be­yond the rail­way con­nec­tion, a ref­er­ence is made to the EU-China Con­nec­tiv­ity Plat­form. Ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment, Brus­sels also wants to pur­sue ne­go­ti­a­tions on an air trans­porta­tion agree­ment with Bei­jing.

How­ever, it is not a se­cret that the EU has de­cided to in­ten­sify its ef­forts and de­velop a con­nec­tiv­ity strat­egy vis-à-vis Asia as it is con­cerned about Chi­nese in­ten­tions. The Belt and Road ini­tia­tive has gen­er­ated con­cern in some Eu­ro­pean cap­i­tals over Chi­nese com­pa­nies get­ting the up­per hand in key in­fra­struc­ture works. The EU is there­fore look­ing for ways to pro­tect its eco­nomic in­ter­ests.

In 2016, for in­stance, it did not rec­og­nize China's Mar­ket Econ­omy Sta­tus. In Septem­ber 2017, Pres­i­dent of the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion, Jean Claude Juncker, launched a new Eu­ro­pean screen­ing mech­a­nism pol­icy for Chi­nese state owned en­ter­prises. Three months later the EU put in place new trade de­fense rules, tar­get­ing China at first “be­cause the bulk of [its] anti-dump­ing ac­tiv­ity con­cerns im­ports from that coun­try.”

And now Brus­sels seeks to ex­tend its own net­works – such as the Tran­sEuro­pean Trans­port Net­works – to­ward Asia through bi­lat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral part­ner­ships. By step­ping up its strat­egy for con­nect­ing Europe and Asia it is hop­ing to cre­ate a com­ple­men­tary tool to the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive. Within this con­text, the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion has pro­posed to in­crease the EU ex­ter­nal ac­tion bud­get to €123 bil­lion ($142 bil­lion) for the pe­riod 2021-2027.

De­spite ev­i­dent Sino-Eu­ro­pean dif­fer­ences, the new EU con­nec­tiv­ity strat­egy in the mak­ing is not bad news for China. To start with, China re­tains its main ad­van­tage – its abil­ity to use its vast re­sources and in­vest while rolling out the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive. Also, China is fa­vor­ably view­ing con­di­tions lead­ing to syn­er­gies. There are sev­eral ex­am­ples of Chi­nese banks or com­pa­nies col­lab­o­rat­ing with Eu­ro­pean ones. The web­site of the Eu­ro­pean Com­mis­sion clearly states that the EU will con­tinue to en­gage with China as the two sides share an in­ter­est in as­sur­ing their re­spec­tive ini­tia­tives work. This is placed in the in­ter­est of the Chi­nese govern­ment heav­ily re­ly­ing on mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism and shar­ing the vi­sion of build­ing a com­mu­nity of shared fu­ture for mankind.

The main dif­fer­ence be­tween the Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive and the new EU con­nec­tiv­ity strat­egy is that the for­mer has been al­ready suc­cess­ful and is be­ing con­tin­u­ously ad­vanc­ing, whereas the sec­ond re­mains largely the­o­ret­i­cal. The Eu­ro­pean Par­lia­ment and Coun­cil will dis­cuss the afore­men­tioned com­mu­ni­ca­tion and con­trib­ute to dis­cus­sions on con­nec­tiv­ity at the up­com­ing Asia-Europe Meet­ing Sum­mit to be held in Brus­sels on Oc­to­ber 18 and 19. Of course, the EU has a ten­dency to de­velop grand the­o­ries but of­ten lacks the unity and grav­i­tas to im­ple­ment them at the in­ter­na­tional level.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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