For years now, China has been pushing a massive and vast geopolitically influential network of investments in transport and infrastructure, both terrestrial and maritime, which Beijing uses to link raw resources that they get to China and Chinese products to Western markets. The initial perceived idea of the “Belt and Road initiative” (一带一路) is to mimic the famous Silk Road, which linked China and the Far East with the Middle East and Europe. However, this seemingly mutually-beneficial and altruistic project for the development of the infrastructure of many countries, who cannot afford it, isn’t really what is seems – China is not funding the construction, but rather it is lending exorbitant amounts of money to countries who have no chance of paying these loans back. This entails that these countries have to repay their debts in a different way, most commonly by leasing factories, ports, military bases and even whole cities to China for free for the duration of decades, or they have to support the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) politically no matter what they do. This is commonly called China’s “Debt trap”, and some have even gone as far as to call it “neocolonialism”.
This trend has been growing in controversy for years now, as it has become more and more evident that China’s intentions are not what they seemed initially. China’s trustworthiness has generally been decreasing by a large margin, due to a lot of issues coming to light and an increasing amount of people are informed about them – the repression of democracy in Hong Kong, the concentration camps in Xinjiang, the forced organ harvesting, the aggressive expansionistic tendencies towards almost all of China’s neighbors, the debt traps, and most recently – the accidental release of COVID-19 and absolutely horrendous handling of the situation by the CCP.
Protest of China's genocide in Xinjiang
The EU as of late has decided to provide the world with an alternative, which doesn’t come with all of the downsides of China’s global infrastructure project. The EU’s global infrastructure project, which is called “Global Gateway”, was officially proposed by the president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen in her annual State of the Union speech on Tuesday. The EU needs to become a “more active player” in an era of global “hyper-competitiveness”, she said.
Ursula von der Leyen
This means that instead of creating “dependencies” around the world, the EU is going to be creating mutually beneficial links. She didn’t at all shy away from calling China out directly, which would have been unthinkable up until a year ago.
"We want to turn Global Gateway into a trusted brand around the world. We will build Global Gateway partnerships with countries around the world. We want investments in quality infrastructure, connecting goods, people and services around the world."
One of the priorities currently would be for the EU to discuss during a regional summit in February connectivity projects with Africa.
An EU official said that the initiative would provide lower-income and developing countries “transparent and values-based” project financing. Von der Leyen has also proposed a ban of any and all products made using forced labor, which relates to the concerns about the Chinese region of Xinjiang.
The European Union is finally taking steps to ensure its strategic and financial autonomy, especially due to the concerning developments in China. The concerns about the EU’s reliance and dependence on the United States were heightened after the pullout from Afghanistan.
“Europe can – and clearly should – be able and willing to do more on its own” she argued.
This event might be one of the most geopolitically significant events both for the European Union and the world. This might be the beginning an era, where the EU is more self-reliant, self-sufficient, and independent, while growing in importance as the superpower it has the potential to be. But still, the only true way the European Union can become an actual superpower – and the strongest one, in fact – is to completely unite and federalize.