Recently the European Union launched the Global Gateway, a new infrastructure development scheme to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative(BRI). The BRI is a huge, geopolitically significant network of infrastructure and transport investments that Beijing uses to connect its exporters to western markets.
The BRI was adopted by the Chinese government in 2013 and grew rapidly over the next few years. It intended to invest in nearly 70 countries and international organizations. However the European Union’s Global Gateway project started becoming a major challenge to the BRI.
The US Government has announced a similar program, Build Back Better(at the world (B3W)) a few months ago also aimed at halting the BRI’s expansion. Now with Europe in the fray Chinese expansion is likely to be severely curtailed. At the same time China would potentially face difficulties in maintaining current deals and bilateral agreements under the BRI.
The US and EU led schemes endorse transparency in trading, partnership and value-driven infrastructure development which are conspicuously absent in the BRI’s terms of reference
Since its launch in 2013 the BRI has been well received in several countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America as well as a few countries in Europe mainly due to its easy loan parameters . These concessions facilitated economic and military expansion for the Chinese, allowing them to build infrastructure, establish military bases in BRI- recipient countries clearing the way for Beijing’s expansion towards fulfilling its goal of becoming a global power.
A large number of these sovereign loans are in fact extended to developing countries and are negotiated in secret. A few of these loans use resources as collateral. This dept trap diplomacy, the lack of transparency and unreasonable loan conditions have made these schemes extremely unpopular and as a result have earned the BRI a lot of bad press eventually slowing down its pace. Covid-19 had a direct impact on the reduction of fund flows and only added to china’s woes.
A few countries like Australia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Kyrgyzstan have cancelled, downsized or postponed the BRI projects. At this point however the launch of the Global Gateway and subsequent announcement of the B3W further impact the Chinese plans of global domination.
European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen while endorsing the Global Gateway program underlined that it would create links not dependencies. She proposed a values-based approach offering transparency and good governance to partners calling out BRI for its opaque tender processes and potential corrupt dealings with local political leaders. She also proposed a ban on Chinese products using forced labor and exploitation in the production chain.
At this point the unease over china’s policies in clear all over Europe. Many countries in Europe are turning against Chinese policies. There has been a candle vigil in remembrance of those killed in 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre as well as agitations against Chinese “atrocities” in Xinjiang and Tibet.
In some of the BRI partner countries, there is anguish over the Chinese dominance and bullying as decision over the terms are dominated by Beijing. Unsustainable loans and cases of debt-traps in countries like Sri Lanka and Malaysia as well as use of sovereign land for building China’s military installations has made the BRI a cause for concern. In such atmosphere, Beijing can find it difficult to expand the footprints of the BRI in Europe in and even African and Asian countries.
China’s regional competitor, India is also set to play a major role in the plans to counter the BRI. New Delhi has rejected the proposal to be a part of the BRI citing BRI’s participation in the construction of a project in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Strategically Chinese projects in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri lanka have enabled China to build infrastructure and military bases that surround the Indian republic which makes it imperative for India to do its bit to weaken the BRI. United in this goal, India and EU have announced a connectivity partnership in may this year and India would be more than content to join the Global Gateway and strengthen it against the BRI. The B3W and this Indo-European cooperation can build an effective mechanism to halt the Chinese thirst for hegemony restoring stability and economic growth.