BRI’s ultimate goal is to serve China’s long-term economic and geopolitical interests. Such intentions, which were somewhat overlooked at first, are now better understood by the EU, which shows a capacity to learn Chinese practices. In turn, the EU can respond more quickly and efficiently.
The Chinese digital transformation is a major game changer - not only for the EU but for all international actors. China’s Digital Silk Road, as part of the BRI, aims to support China’s high tech and digital companies, creating markets for them to operate in third countries by first investing in digital infrastructure. Even though the EU was one of the first players to respond to the rise of big technology companies, the focus of its current Digital Strategy (also known as Digital Compass) remains mostly intra-European and mainly targets US Big Tech, which is far stronger in Europe than Chinese Big Tech, which dominates many Indo-Pacific markets. The EU is starting to realize that in a globally connected world, working on the inside is not enough. It will also be crucial to engage with developing countries that are looking for an alternative to the Chinese (and American) offerings. This is exactly what China is doing through the digital aspects of BRI.
Overall, we are experiencing a big shift, in which Global Gateway actually represents an international extension of the EU’s industrial policy, by taking the internal agenda to third countries. Hence, the plan is also steering a shift in the EU’s development cooperation policy, dealing with infrastructure development and involving the promotion of European companies.
In a context marked by China's move with its expanding Belt and Road Initiative and the United States' Build Back Better strategy, how does the Global Gateway fit into the EU’s wider attempt to position itself as a leader on the international scene?
The Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative could be relevant if the corresponding investments are effectively implemented, which, to my knowledge, has not yet happened.
It is important to bear in mind that the United States, China and the European Union are not the only actors developing such strategies. Japan, for instance, but also South Korea, India and Taiwan have connectivity initiatives. Along with the individual implementation of these plans comes the increasing call for coordination, which is not an easy task as all of them cover a wide range of issues.
Ensuring the success of the Global Gateway would require the EU's global partners to accept and work within the EU's norm and rule-based system. In my opinion, however, working with partners in the context of Global Gateway should not be an institutionalized process. Instead of making the Global Gateway even bigger by focusing on partnerships with developed countries, it is crucial to first make sure that "Team Europe" delivers concrete projects that cater to real needs, including for infrastructure and advanced digital skills. Global Gateway would be more successful if cooperation was undertaken at the national or thematic level, focusing for example on digital infrastructure, cyber security, green energy or education. Interesting projects, such as India’s efforts to promote digital financial inclusion in order to reduce inequalities, are good examples to follow. A country-to-country approach to such cooperation would offer a very comprehensive perspective, and potentially be more successful in promoting individual freedom, political liberties and economic openness.
Moreover, starting with a bottom-up approach with partners could increase exposure about what the EU is doing. We have to recognize that the promotion of democratic values is the ultimate aim of the Global Gateway plan, but it is not necessary to make it explicit. Defining the plan as anti-China or even pro-democratic might be good for audiences at home, but not necessarily for those abroad - and is therefore, ultimately, not in Europe’s best interest either.
Copyright: Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP
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