The Anti-Silk Road

BERLIN/BEIJING |

BERLIN/BEIJING (Own report) - At this week's Asia-Europe Meeting in Brussels, the EU will introduce a new "connectivity strategy" to counter China's "New Silk Road." As outlined by the EU's head of foreign policy in September, the strategy is aimed at improving transportation infrastructure as well as digital and energy networks linking Asia and Europe. Beijing is also active in these domains in connection with its Silk Road initiative. Recently, Germany's Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched an initial thrust in this project. At the time, Minister of State Niels Annen (SPD) declared in Uzbekistan that social standards and human rights are "priorities" for Brussels. "This is what makes our offer different from China's Belt and Road initiative." For years, Germany had supported - even with military assistance - the Uzbek regime that was applying torture. Washington has also launched a new infrastructure initiative in Asia, to which US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared that the USA is committed to "honest accords" and would "never seek dominance over the Indo-Pacific."

The "European Way"

The new "connectivity strategy" outlined by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security, Federica Mogherini, on September 19, is explicitly aimed at "improving links connecting Europe and Asia."[1] This should be accomplished in 3 ways. On the one hand, Brussels seeks to accelerate development of transportation infrastructure, to enhance Asian trade. Based on its value, currently 70 percent of European-Asian trade is carried out by sea, 25 percent by air, and five percent overland, according to the EU Commission, each with enormous growth potential. Digital as well as energy networks are also to be enhanced, in addition to an expansion of scholarship programs and promotion of twin-city arrangements. The rather ambiguously described strategy was praised using public relations clichés typical of Brussels. For example, Brussels was pursuing the "European way" to "sustainable," "comprehensive," and "rules-based" expansion of the infrastructure. More than anything else, this phraseology is aimed at demonstrating an alleged politically moral superiority over China.

German Interests

Meanwhile, Berlin launched an initial thrust, to give this strategy, at least punctually, a more concrete character. For this purpose, Niels Annen, Minister of State in Germany's Ministry of Foreign Affairs visited Kazakhstan from September 17, - 18, and from 19, - 21, Uzbekistan. Since quite some time, the German government has been seeking stronger influence in Central Asia, both out of geostrategic and economic interests. Kazakhstan has large petroleum deposits. In 2016, it was Germany's fourth largest oil supplier. Turkmenistan, on the other hand, has the world's fourth largest natural gas deposits. Germany has strengthened its efforts to attain the objective of having Turkmen gas delivered via the Caspian Sea and South Caucasus to the EU. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[2]) In 2007, during the time Germany was the rotating President of the European Council - and under pressure of the German foreign ministry - the EU passed a Central Asia Strategy, aimed at reinforcing the EU's influence in that region.[3] However, the project ran aground. In the spring of 2016, a correspondent, accompanying Germany's Foreign Minister, Frank Walter Steinmeier, at the time, on his trip to Central Asia, noted that "nothing has come of the Central Asia Strategy."[4]

"Unlike China"

Whereas the Berlin government and German business have not been able to get a foothold in Central Asia, China has massively expanded its influence over the past few years. Uzbekistan, where Minister of State Annen had spoken September 19, in promotion of the EU's new connectivity strategy, is but one example. By far, the most important investors and trading partners of this country are - at relative parity - Russia and China, whereas the People's Republic of China can look forward to its influence being enhanced through the expansion of the "New Silk Road" ("One Belt, One Road," OBOR).[5] Annen announced that Berlin and the EU will "further develop" their activities in the region along the lines of the revised EU Central Asia Strategy that is scheduled to be adopted durng the first semester of 2019. For Berlin and Brussels "secure investments" as well as "social, environmental, security, and human rights standards" are "priorities." "This is what makes our offer different from China's Belt and Road initiative."[6] The German government, that prides itself of upholding "human rights standards," had been cooperating for many years with the regime of President Islam Karimov in Uzbekistan, a regime that carried out torture. Germany had even provided it military support. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[7]) Today, Berlin can benefit from the fact that, last summer, the Uzbek government had appointed a German official to become Vice Minister for Innovation. Karsten Heinz went directly to Tashkent from Germany's Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).[8]

Asia-Europe Meeting

Using their connectivity strategy, Berlin and Brussels now want to expand their influence activities in other Asian countries, as well. This will be launched at the Asia-Europe Meeting ("ASEM Summit"), which will be held Thursday and Friday in Brussels. The Asia-Europe Meeting, (ASEM) is an association of 51 countries from the two continents, which since 1996 holds a summit every two years and a foreign ministers meeting in the year between the summits. This year's agenda includes the question of "trade and investments," "security policy challenges" as well as "connectivity." Thursday, the Asia-Europe Business Forum will be held under the motto "connectivity," organized by BusinessEurope, an association of 39 European business associations, including the Federation of German Industries (BDI) and the Confederation of German Employers (BDA). Violeta Bulc, EU Commissioner for Transport will introduce the new connectivity strategy at the forum.

"No Dominance"

The EU is not the only one trying to compete with China's "Silk Road" project. At the end of July, US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, also announced a new initiative aimed toward Asian countries and at weakening China's growing influence. In its objectives, the initiative, called "America's Indo-Pacific Economic Vision" is similar to the EU's connectivity strategy. US $30 million - of the total US $113 million earmarked for the project - will go into the expansion of the infrastructure, US $25 million to promote "digital connectivity" and US $50 million for energy projects.[9] The public relations phraseology used by Pompeo to praise his initiative, strongly resembles that used by the EU. According to him, if the countries in Asia participate in Washington's new program, they can expect "honest accords," under "honest conditions" and with "upright business practices." The United States would "never seek dominance over the Indo-Pacific," Pompeo claimed. It would confront "any country that would." The country allegedly seeking dominance that Pompeo is referring to is China, the country Washington currently is engaging in a trade war and other forms of aggression, to shore up its global supremacy.[10]

 

[1] Joint Communication to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee, the Committee of the Regions and the European Investment Bank: Connecting Europe and Asia - Building blocks for an EU Strategy. JOIN(2018) 31 final. Brussels, 19.09.2018.

[2] See also The new 'New Ostpolitik' (I).

[3] See also Prioritäten der EU.

[4] Majid Sattar: Im Schatten des großen Spiels. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 02.04.2016.

[5] Indra Overland, Roman Vakulchuk: China's Belt and Road Gets a Central Asian Boost. thediplomat.com 03.05.2018.

[6] Rede von Staatsminister Annen bei der Konferenz "Uzbekistan and Germany: cooperation in the field of security and sustainable development in Central Asia". auswaertiges-amt.de 19.09.2018.

[7] See also Diktator für Deutschland and Ein langjähriger Partner.

[8] See also Usbekistans deutscher Vizeminister.

[9] Laura Koran: Pompeo announces new US investments in Indo-Pacific region. edition.cnn.com 30.07.2018.

[10] See also Eine Giftpille gegen China.