EU should seek synergies with Belt and Road

_  Fu Jing, deputy chief,  of China Daily European Bureau. Bejing, February 2018.

The world is at a critical moment and more constructive and persuasive intellectual contributions to jointly boost connectivity, instead of putting up barriers, are badly needed.

Michael Emerson, of the Brussels think tank Centre for European Policy Studies, is among those offering such contributions. He has recently published a policy paper proposing the European Union build a Wider European Economic Area by harmonizing its neighborhood policy.

The EU should certainly give Emerson’s proposal, which covers all of Europe, serious consideration against the backdrop of the United Kingdom’s talks on leaving the EU and its enlargement eastward coming to a standstill.

Among other essential elements to increase linkages, Emerson regards free trade as the first priority in his WEEA initiative, which embraces non-EU members such as Norway and Switzerland, the Balkans and those in East Europe which have association agreements with the EU.

In particular, Emerson has shown profound openness in this paper by seeking coordination between the WEEA he proposes and China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the Eurasian Economic Union.

Emerson’s openness should be adopted by more politicians and scholars, especially those from the West because some are advocating isolationism, divisions and misconceptions.

Since the Belt and Road Initiative was proposed by President Xi Jinping in late 2013, impressive progress has been made in boosting the connectivity between China and the EU. One typical example is that every day, an increasing number of cargo trains runs from various Chinese cities to European destinations.

The Belt and Road Initiative is inclusive, it has created synergies with the multi-billion-euro European Investment Scheme and the Eurasian Economic Union over the previous years.

So China and Russia would be open to explore the possibilities for enhancing connectivity.

In China’s proposal for the Belt and Road Initiative, infrastructure construction is a priority, in addition to facilitating personnel, finance and trade flow and policy dialogue.

Among many measures, a high-speed railway linking Beijing and Moscow is already in the pipeline. The Greater Eurasian space has the geographical advantage that a high-speed rail network can be built linking major cities such as Beijing, Moscow, Warsaw, Budapest, Berlin, Brussels, Paris and London.

If the politicians, especially those from Europe, seek convergences between China, Russia and China’s proposals for speeding up regional integration, the EU will need to consider a blueprint such as Emerson’s.

Over the previous four decades of economic expansion, China has one excellent experience to share, which is that poverty reduction and economic prosperity depend on road building and rail networks.

A harsh reality is that in the Greater Eurasian continent, covering up to 100 economies, conflicts, poverty, and even wars are still headaches disturbing some countries.

Some European opinion leaders commenting on China’s Belt and Road Initiative have pointed out that due to its openness it could help address those problems and promote stability and common prosperity.

The EU needs to consider Emerson’s proposal now to well prepare for its stance when European and Asian leaders meet in Brussels in October for their biennial summit.

On the European side, what is urgently needed to demonstrate, in particular, is courage, ambition, wisdom and flexibility, while taking advantage of its high-tech capabilities, global leadership and institutional experiences, to explore the potential of greater cooperation.

Of course, the spillover effects will benefit the African continent as well if China, the EU and Russia can set a good example in effectively boosting regional integration through cooperation.

However, the fruits of cooperation will only be reaped if the mindsets of the players concerned can be changed from merely seeking a competitive advantage to exploring synergies and cooperation.


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