Brussels has made clear its intentions to compete with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), but Paris, it seems, has other ideas
This week, China and France signed a $1.7 billion third-market cooperation agreement. As reported by China Daily, there are seven projects in infrastructure, environmental protection, new energy and other sectors in regions such as Africa and Central and Eastern Europe.
In addition, China and France signed an agreement last year to fund the construction of the Belgrade Metro to the tune of $5 billion and construction started just a few months ago.
What is remarkable about this cooperation is that it shows a definite win-win scenario for Beijing and Paris. France is one of the largest economies in the EU and a major political player, especially now that Macron is the current President of the Council of the European Union. In recent days we have seen the EU’s stance on competing with China on global development – but is this strategy the right one?
The Financial Times reported in November 2021 that the EU plans to mobilize up to €300 billion by 2027 under its Global Gateway, citing draft proposals from the European Commission, with clear indications that this aims to be an alternative to the BRI.
“By providing a positive choice for global infrastructure development, Global Gateway will invest in international stability and cooperation and demonstrate how democratic values provide certainty and fairness, sustainability for partners, and long-term benefits for people around the world.” , the Financial Times quotes the document as saying.
A glaring flaw in the logic of providing an alternative to the BRI is that the BRI is itself an alternative to a development status quo already established by Western countries. The fact that the BRI is so popular around the world indicates that this status quo has failed.
To put this status quo in simple terms, it’s a dependency system. Humanitarian aid programs, as well as loans from institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, are not designed to solve past problems of underdevelopment, but rather to deepen them by perpetuating the disparity of wealth between the North and the world. South.
In contrast, China’s international development cooperation is firmly rooted in South-South cooperation and the promotion of independence. Critics of the BRI say it creates a system of dependency, which is why they cling to blatantly false diplomacy stories of the “debt trap”, such as the debunked claim that the international airport of ‘Entebbe in Uganda has been seized by China. In fact, the success of the BRI speaks for itself.
BRI funding in China is decentralized and allows governments to decide for themselves what is funded, which means they can set priorities. There are no political conditions attached. Not surprisingly, this approach, fundamentally the opposite of the Western-dominated status quo, is also popular. Instead of just changing the way they approach international development, the EU is essentially launching what strictly amounts to a public relations campaign.
In fact, this latest news on increased global investment in EU infrastructure contradicts the fact that the EU already has the world’s largest multilateral development bank, the European Investment Bank (EIB). Moreover, according to the EU’s own data, the EU invested about as much between 2013 and 2018 as China for BRI projects.
So why haven’t these projects received the same positive reception as the BRI? Because they are qualitatively different. Despite the fact that the existence of the Global Gateway recognizes the success of the BRI in the first place, the EU does not intend to significantly change the way it approaches international development as it currently stands. .
Instead, the only real difference between what the EU is doing now and what it plans to do is essentially rebranding. For example, EU member states are individually funding infrastructure projects around the world, which Brussels hopes will transition from national to “European” projects, although there is no guarantee that it will materialize.
Similarly, through sentences like “sustainable”, “complete” and “rules-based” while portraying the Chinese BRI as the opposite, the EU hopes to reinforce its message to promote the global gateway. But, again, this is just a rhetorical shift that means little to parts of the world that are more interested in seeing results than ticking Western business boxes.
It is also important to note that China’s BRI is so effective that several EU countries are joining it. How can Global Gateway deliver effective messages as China’s BRI aids the EU? It does not mean anything.
International development should not be a zero-sum game, win-win situations are possible. Moreover, cooperation rather than competition means more efficient use of time and resources, which would only help developing countries achieve results faster. The EU would be wise to complement China’s BRI rather than try to replace it, i.e. replace what is already a (successful) replacement.
Cooperation between France and China on this front is a notable example from which the EU as a whole can learn. Developing countries will see much-needed projects move forward while France and China can deepen their economic ties in the developing world, where most economists agree global GDP growth will be centered in the future. .
In addition to the potential for economic growth it creates, it helps bolster China’s BRI and France’s tricky reputation in places like Africa – which could, if things change in Brussels, also help strengthen the image of the EU.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.