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Emanuele Scimia
Emanuele Scimia
Emanuele Scimia is an independent journalist and foreign affairs analyst.

Russia’s Ukraine war failures, ‘imperial’ image and the growing unrest in Central Asia suggest it is no longer a security asset for China or the Belt and Road Initiative. With others ready to project regional influence, China may have to take responsibility for security in the former Soviet space.

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Pacific island leaders have repeatedly expressed their reservations about being drawn into the power struggle between Beijing and Washington. With the US navy already having a foothold in the region, China needs much more than one base to gain military relevance in the South Pacific.

Beijing has worked hard to build a consensus in many European quarters but an anti-China front is now building in the EU that could bury its 16+1 initiative.

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One of the most remarkable aspects of the global reaction is the unity between the US and its European allies after a long period of being at odds. Expectations of China attacking Taiwan could help the US overcome the resistance of its Indo-Pacific allies and partners to hosting US troops and equipment.

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Beijing should consider offering Europe concessions in trade and investment, or risk seeing the EU join hands with the US. After all, China and the European Union share a common cause: to protect multilateralism from Trump’s approach to world affairs.

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Hopes that China’s presence in the volatile region could provide some needed stability now appear too optimistic in light of the US’ targeted strike. A full-blown US-Iran would be bad news for Beijing, undermining its push for belt and road development.

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Some 2,200 European companies are headquartered in Hong Kong – versus 1,344 from the US. While the EU is unlikely to pass US-style legislation on Hong Kong, it might react in other ways if Beijing continues to meddle in European politics.

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With his China visit, French President Macron won trade deals and climate cooperation and shored up European Union interests. But his silence on the South China Sea does not mean France will stop trying to curb China’s influence or end arms sales to its rivals.

China’s economic clout in the Pacific is clearly growing, as its recent poaching of Taiwan allies has demonstrated. The US has expanded military activity to counter this, but it’s not certain it can sustain the necessary partnerships.

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Europe has concerns over Hong Kong, Huawei and barriers to China’s market that Beijing will have to assuage. But while an anti-Trump front is unlikely, cooperation in other areas, including climate change and infrastructure investment, is possible

Tensions over the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities threaten belt and road projects in the Gulf and China’s oil lifeline – and reveal Beijing’s lack of soft power and strategic influence.

EU-China ties are already strained by South China Sea tensions, Xinjiang detentions and 5G security concerns. The EU is unlikely to spend much political capital pressing Beijing on Hong Kong, with a recession on the horizon.

The collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty could see US strengthening land-based missile defences in the Asia-Pacific, forcing China into an arms race. But many observers question the need for such defences.

Phnom Penh and Beijing both deny reports of a new base agreement, but undeniably closer cooperation has Washington on edge. Ultimately, the growing rivalry between the two and the importance of the Indo-Pacific region means further militarisation appears inevitable.

The odds of China joining a multilateral escort plan led by the US are close to zero, but Beijing recognises its use. In particular, China sees it preventing small skirmishes that could escalate, and so may provide tacit endorsement.

The hard reality for Trump is that Chinese businesses are modernising European port infrastructure and creating jobs as part of belt and road integration. Many in Europe see US fears about the Chinese navy gaining greater strategic access as overblown.

The US has been clear that it will reconsider its partnerships with countries that use crucial Chinese technology. However, ultimately, the appeal of 5G may lure many countries away from the US.

While it won’t confront China as Trump has done, the grouping wants to address its concerns over some Chinese policies through a united front. Italy’s lone endorsement of the belt and road recently shows the challenge it faces.

The continuing Chinese charm offensive is far from winning over EU sceptics who have long complained of Beijing’s unfair trade and investment practices, and in fact have taken action to counter it.

Washington sees a connection between Beijing’s overseas infrastructure projects and military strategy objectives, and is trying to weaken China’s grip on some countries in the Indo-Pacific.

Emanuele Scimia says despite progress on a code of conduct in the South China Sea between China and Asean, the US will not cede influence in the region easily.

Quite apart from the forbidding price tag, the problem of technology access and the sheer imbalance in firepower, considering China’s naval assets, are challenges Taipei is unlikely to overcome.

While France and Britain are jointly stepping up their military presence in regional waters, it’s not a given they will fully back America’s muscular position against China in the South China Sea.

The UK’s recent expansion to the East, including establishing a naval base in Bahrain and naval stopovers with Beijing’s regional rivals, can’t hide the fact that the UK cannot project power in China’s backyard by itself.