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A New Opportunity in EU–China Security Ties: The One Belt One Road Initiative

by Jikkie Verlare (Clingendael Institute)

China’s Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road initiative aims to connect Asia, Africa, Europe, and their near seas. The purpose of this study is to examine whether it would be beneficial for the European member states to invest in a common response strategy to the One Belt One Road, as opposed to engaging this initiative primarily at the national level. After exploring how the EU’s deteriorating security environment has caused member states to attach more importance to maintaining the EU’s defence and power projection capabilities, the paper turns to the strategies currently employed to gain more influence over security matters in East Asia. Upon examination, it is shown that three out of four approaches hold little promise of progress. (1) Engagement with ASEAN will only reach its full potential when its integration process is completed, (2) expanding consultations with the US might lead to the perception of a ‘dependent’ Europe and loss of neutrality, and (3) a lack of hard power means that the EU is often not taken seriously as a security actor when participating in regional forums. The remainder of the paper explores the opportunity that has surfaced with regards to the fourth approach: utilising the EU’s strategic partnerships in Asia. Under the definition contained in Xi Jinping’s New Security Concept stating that ‘development equals security’, China’s One Belt One Road initiative can be conceptualized as both the most ambitious infrastructure and security initiative today. It is argued that if Europe works with China in the framework of their strategic partnership to align, among others, the planned restructuring of its European Neighbourhood Strategy, as well as projects included under its European Maritime Security Strategy and Partnership Instrument to link in with the Belt and Road projects, this would entail a true added value for the EU. Doing so will enable members states to not just compete for the benefits of increased Chinese investments on their own territories, but embed China’s initiative in their own strategic goal of gaining a larger security footprint in the Asian region…

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