Political events this week have highlighted the fact that China has an insatiable desire for penetrating the markets of the European Union, thereby trying to reduce the influence of the United States in Europe.
Eyebrows are being raised in Washington as Italy and China have signed an agreement to expand the Belt and Road initiative. Italy is now the first country from the Western alliance to sign up to such a plan. This week, a total of 29 deals amounting to $2.8 billion were signed during the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Rome.
Chinese banks have initiated funding of a major infrastructure plan, whose aim is to connect China to Europe, or to facilitate speedier movement of Chinese goods to markets that are situated far away, for example, in Europe. Basically, it involves building new and wider roads, modern ports and rail routes, which will transport goods faster. China has already trains that run much faster than most trains in the European Union.
So Italy’s support and acceptance of the global Chinese infrastructure plan, widely known now as the Belt and Road initiative, is being admonishingly viewed with critical eyes and a good deal of anxiety both in Brussels and in Washington. Brussels has long wanted to unite all EU countries to form a common foreign policy priority, and this rebellious step taken by Italy is seen as an act of defiance and deviation.
The Trump administration is formulating a new doctrine of foreign policy priorities after having recently declared victory over the ISIS stronghold in Syria and Iraq. The focus now is to make the final shift from fighting Islamic terrorism, which has consumed much of US’ attention from 9/11 attack until now. The purpose of the new game of Cold War is confronting and restricting China, which poses a much stronger challenge to the hegemony of the Western alliance than Russia ever did. Russia today is economically weak, demographically less important with a smaller population, and not seen as much of a threat any longer.
While the threat from Russia is diminishing, China seems to occupy the front stage these days. Demographically speaking, China has roughly three times more inhabitants than the number of people living in the United States. Economically speaking, China has a robust economy, which is competing for interest in the countries which until now were dominated by American interests. When Italy signed the agreement with the Chinese President Xi Jinping, it became the first member of of the G7, the club of the seven major advanced economies, to sign such a deal, and that, too, despite heavy criticism from US and EU diplomats.
The Chinese initiative to lure Italy away is now seen as an attempt by China to flex its economic muscles. China luring Pakistan into signing as many deals does not catch as much attention here.
Militarily speaking, it is well, known in the Western alliance that China has one of the largest armies in the world, and when it comes to technological prowess, China is keen on expanding its telecommunications network in Europe by offering cheap access to 5G networks. The US has been able to convince some of its other allies, such as Japan and Australia, that allowing the Chinese technological giant Huawei in is a risky affair amidst the growing rivalry between Washington and Beijing. Denmark, too, recently declined the Chinese offer to upgrade its internet network with the help of Huawei. The argument is that China will be able to amass an enormous amount of sensitive data on European citizens and thereby spy on them.
So expect some fundamental changes when the members of the NATO alliance meet in Washington next month. The point is to focus less on Russia and more on China.
Will it be easy for the USA to persuade the Europeans, who at the moment are occupied in solving the Brexit crisis, or who are not totally convinced about the wisdom in accepting China as the new strategic rival to its interests, to allow NATO to use its resources against China? Much has been said about the polarizing political debate in the US in the last two years, but finally across both sides of the political aisle there is a broad acceptance and realization that Chinese cyber warfare and cyber attacks are an imminent threat to the interest of the United States across the world.
Next month, NATO will also be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the alliance. So, much focus will be given on this subject at the upcoming meeting in Washington.
Exactly three decades ago, an American political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, published an article titled, “The End Of History?” celebrating the final victory of liberal capitalism over all its ideological alternative competitors. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, he predicted the demise of communism and a total victory of liberal institutions such as representative democracy and a free market, extrapolating them to be universal goals and good for all.
Exactly three decades after that essay, we are are on the verge of a new Cold War. While watching a film, ‘The Brink’, at its first performance in Copenhagen yesterday, I recollect a scene where Steve Bannon, the former White House chief strategist, says this: “The South China Sea and the Persian gulf could start a Third World War.” ‘The Brink’, a film directed by Alison Klayman, shown for the first time in Europe at a documentary film festival CPH: DOX, demonstrates how Steve Bannon, the mastermind of Trump’s election campaign, popularized the idea of economic nationalism.
Three decades after Fukuyama published his essay, it is time to reflect on economic, cultural and ethno-nationalism issues, which are increasingly going to define the future of electoral results and politics in Europe and across the whole world.