Attempting to break new ground, China implemented its One Belt One Road Strategy in late 2013. Later renamed The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), the massive infrastructure plan sought to physically connect major industrial hubs in China to the European market with train tracks, as well as through various other sea and air pathways. Naturally, it was lauded by many at the time as a bold, revolutionary, and tenacious plan that could potentially improve all parties involved. This strategy by China was quickly embraced globally and to-date has brought about multiple different infrastructure projects in multiple different countries across the globe. However, much of the applause for the project came before the actuality of the project came to light. Critics point out that the entire project has essentially become a form of debt-trapping diplomacy by the Chinese Communist Party in their efforts to expand their superpower status, or perhaps even drive towards hegemony.
Due in part to the turbulent times during the Trump administration, the diplomatic relations between the United States and Europe went cold compared to the previous administration. Europe at the time was essentially caught between a rock and a hard place. Do they work with the Trump administration, or do they work with China, or perhaps Russia? The answer at the time was that many European countries, including members of the European Union, went full-steam-ahead into the BRI. Then the Covid-19 pandemic began and relations between the world and China immediately fell off a cliff.
The European Union, in their attempt to further expand towards their own desire for superpower recognition, rolled out the Global Gateway. Essentially, it will directly seek to counter the BRI. As EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen stated, “We [the EU] are good at financing roads. But it does not make sense for Europe to build a perfect road between a Chinese-owned copper mine and a Chinese-owned harbour [sic]. We have to get smarter when it comes to these kinds of investments.” As the name aptly declares, the GLOBAL Gateway will seek to encompass Africa, all of Europe, and perhaps Asia. However, despite the hype and the well-intentioned declarations, would this alternative genuinely become a BRI counter?
The EU is no stranger to “strings-attached diplomacy.” This term means that in order to conduct business with the EU, new partners must adopt the EU rules and moral values to varying degrees. This then becomes a contrast between economic diplomatic relations and liberal diplomatic relations. Not to be confused with Economic Democracy, the essential idea of economic diplomatic relations is that all relationships between states are based upon mutual growth of economic values and prosperity, regardless of the moral foundations of the states. Liberal diplomacy, on the other hand, is the opposite. If one state wishes to trade and interact with another, one state must adopt the other state’s morals, principles, and ideals. This realm is entirely based upon soft power, but it can be just as effective as military power at implementing change and imposing political will.
The EU has repeatedly shown that it is not above using economic diplomacy to impose non-economic principles. While the opinion of this methodology is subjective, it does call into question exactly what The Global Gateway may become. Would it not just be the EU attempting to dictate the morals and principles of participants in order for those participants to be able to receive the aid or money? Would this attempt not simply be the BRI, except it has the EU flag as opposed to the Chinese flag? Is it not also hypocritical, to a degree, that the EU would attempt this imposition, while simultaneously being trade partners with China despite the alleged genocide taking place there? The Global Gateway could indeed become a monumental effort of the EU to radically change the economic market from China dependency to EU integration. However, this is only a hypothetical situation. The EU must expand further on exactly how the plan would work in practice in order to ease the concerns surrounding a potential repetition of previous diplomatic habits.