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China arrives in the Balkans, EU worried

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The Balkans as a whole and Serbia in particular are quickly turning into a scene of confrontation between key global players, with China being especially active in recent years. Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić has said in an interview with The Foreign Policy magazine that his country’s cooperation with Beijing has triggered more concern in the West than contacts between Moscow and Belgrade. The European Union, he said, has been asking more and more questions about Chinese investments in Serbia. The President remarked that even the US is not worried that much. Simultaneously, Aleksandar Vučić emphasized that he was proud that Serbia was part of the Chinese project “One Belt, One Road”, and described China as Serbia’s major all-time partner.

There are reasons for such estimates. China is building up its positons in the Balkans, first of all, as part of Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” Initiative. Moreover, China proclaimed a special role of investment policy for the subsequent development of the state in the second half of the 1970s, when the new Chinese leadership adopted the first documents regulating investment activities. In 1999-2000, then-President of China Jiang Zemin launched the “go out” policy, which came to justify the country’s international investment policy. In 2015, China passed a law that served as a roadmap for the implementation of the One Belt, One Road Initiative. The law sets major outlines fort pursuing this initiative, including political partnership with the participants to the project, implementation of infrastructure projects and the development of transport and logistic, liberalization of trade, ensuring the free movement of capital and the development of cultural ties.

In addition, the “One Belt, One Road” Initiative is not being fulfilled as a traditional model of regional cooperation, in other words, it does not envisage the creation of unions and bodies with supranational powers. From the very outset a characteristic feature of the “One Belt, One Road” project was the absence of any clear geographical framework. The Chinese side has repeatedly made it clear that any state can join cooperation within the framework of the above initiative.

The fact that the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is one of the key financial participants in the initiative is evidence of the importance attached to this project by the party and political leadership of China. The American newspaper The New York Times says with concern that participation of this bank “confirms” that “China, which possesses enormous wealth and resources, is now competing with the United States at the global economic table.” “The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank will provide loans of 10-15 billion US dollars per year for the first five or six years,” while its creation is yet more evidence of the rebalancing of the global economy from the West to the East, ” – says Salvatore Babones, an expert with Sydney University for Chinese and American Economies.

In this regard, it should be pointed out that for Beijing the strengthening of positions in the Balkans and in Europe as a whole is one of the key tools for confronting the United States in the ongoing, despite a temporary ceasefire, global “trade war”.

“China has begun its Great Campaign,” – analysts of the international investment company ING reasonably emphasize in this connection: “We take this seriously. This means that the trade war has become not just a technological, but a full-scale business war.”

That China has been set on developing the European direction of its foreign policy in recent years is beyond doubt, and this causes a rather nervous reaction from the EU. The initiative that marked the starting point was voiced by the Chinese leadership in 2011. At that time, China’s activities in Europe consisted, first of all, of buying up various European firms and companies, including those operating in the real estate market, in the wake of the financial crisis in 2008. However, in the autumn of 2011, China’s European policy acquired a significant geopolitical aspect. Beijing offered the EU anti-crisis financial assistance in the form of loans totaling $ 100 billion in exchange for certain concessions, such as raising the status and role of China in the IMF and WTO.

The European Union responded in the negative. Brussels dubbed Beijing’s proposals “humiliating and dangerous” and, for its part, initiated a new round of “trade war” with China. For a start, in 2013 the European Commission introduced an extra import duty on Chinese solar panels (at first by 8.6%, two months later – by 47.6%)

The paradox of the situation in terms of EU interests was all the more obvious since China had by then become the second trading partner of the EU, just a little behind the United States. According to the results of 2013, foreign trade turnover between the EU and the USA amounted to 484 billion euros (14.2% of the total), with China – 428 billion euros (12.5%). China’s leadership in the structure of European imports was indisputable – 298 billion euros (16.6% of the EU import balance). The US accounts for 196 billion euros (11.6%).

Not surprisingly, a number of EU member states have decided to develop cooperation with China – especially since Beijing is willing to do the same. The parties concerned are clearly dissatisfied with the current level of trade cooperation, although China accounts for a significant share of foreign trade among countries of the region. Thus, in recent years, China has come 4th in the Czech imports, after Slovakia and ahead of Russia. In the structure of Hungarian imports, China comes third (after Russia). Among the suppliers of products to the Polish market, China occupies fourth place.

A similar layout is observed in the structure of foreign trade turnover of Serbia. According to the national statistical agency, in 2013, China came fourth in the structure of Serbian imports, second only to Italy, Germany and Russia.

In 2014, it was Belgrade that hosted an economic summit of countries of Central and Southeast Europe and China. The Chinese delegation, led by Prime Minister of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Li Keqiang, underscored Beijing’s interest in “dynamic cooperation” with Central European states. Significantly, the visit of a Chinese prime minister to Belgrade was the first in the last 28 years, that is, since the collapse of united Yugoslavia.

Among the documents signed in Belgrade which laid the framework for modern trade and economic cooperation between Serbia and China was an agreement on the construction of a Belgrade-Budapest high-speed railway. The railroad, to be built with the financial assistance of China, was designed to become a key element of the cross-border trade route which would ensure more economic penetration of China into the European Union.

The participants in the summit – heads of government of Serbia, Hungary and China, Aleksandar Vučić (now the President of Serbia), Viktor Orban and Li Keqiang – signalled their intention “to create a fast ground and sea route on the basis of the Budapest-Belgrade high-speed railway” and the Greek port in Piraeus. As Aleksandar Vučić said then, this railway line “will become the backbone of transport arteries connecting this part of Europe with China”.

Simultaneously, the Chinese side signed a preliminary agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina with a view to financing the construction of a 62-kilometer section of the highway on the Bosnian territory. The purpose is the same – to create an integrated pan-Balkan transport infrastructure. Besides the port terminals in Piraeus, an important part of such infrastructure is a new 1.5 km bridge across the Danube to the value of 136.5 million euros. The bridge is the first tangible evidence of implementation of Chinese construction infrastructure projects in Europe.

In recent years, Hungary and Serbia have become major recipients of Chinese investments in Central and Eastern Europe. Chinese investments in their economy is estimated at several billion euros. Next on the list are Poland and Romania.

“The West is in jeopardy – it is split and at the same time faces a challenge from China. Europe, including Great Britain, has long been in a kind of conflict with the USA and China,” – the German Der Freitag points out in this regard.

Such a situation broadens the potential of Serbia and other Balkan countries as they pursue their foreign policy priorities. On the other hand, it calls for more efforts from key global players, including Russia, in terms of ensuring their own political, trade, economic and military interests in the region. 

From our partner International Affairs

Senior fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Slavonic Studies, PhD (History)

Europe

Europe’s former imperial countries are now desperate U.S. colonies

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nord stream

India is no longer a colony of the UK, but Germany and other European countries have become — now quite obviously — colonies of the United States, and their economies will be financially bled by the world-bestriding U.S. imperialist center, just like the UK and other European nations had previously (and infamously) exploited India and its other colonies.

The U.S. Government’s having blown-up the Nord Stream gas pipelines from Russia to Europe — after years of efforts to sabotage them more subtly by other, more ‘diplomatic’ (but less permanent), means — will leave Europe permanently forced to pay vastly higher rates to America and other liquefied natural gas (LNG) suppliers, and no longer with even a hope of receiving the far less-expensive Russian gas, which, until recently, fueled so many European firms to international competitiveness. Now, there’s no longer even a hope for Europe to avoid sliding into the usual model of colonies, as being banana republics, of one sort or another.

It was so natural for Russia to be Europe’s main energy-supplier, because Russia is a part of Europe, on the same continent as the other European nations, and therefore could pipeline its energy to them, and Russia had a surfeit of energy while the other European nations had a surfeit of need for it. That’s the way international capitalism is supposed to function, but imperialistic capitalism is instead international fascism, and it survives and grows only by exploiting other nations. From now on, the European nations, other than Russia, will, for at least a long time (because those giant gas-pipelines have been destroyed) be paying the world’s highest prices for energy (containerized and shipped, instead of simply pipelined), and buying much of it from Europe’s imperial center, which is increasingly recognizable now as being Europe’s real enemy: America. They will be paying tribute to the emperor — the billionaires who control the USA. These are the puppet-masters behind “the free world” (as their ‘news’-media refer to it), which is actually the new international-fascist empire. As Barack Obama called it, America is “the one indisensable nation,” which means that all other nations (in this case, the ones in Europe) are “dispensable.” Now, these former imperial nations will finally get a taste of what it’s like to be a “dispensable nation.” 

Here are some of the key U.S. operatives in Europe, who managed this situation, for the U.S. owners — brought this situation about (before Joe Biden’s agents ultimately just pulled the plug on the whole operation):

Boris Johnson, Olaf Schulz, Annalena Baerbock, Robert Habeck, Ursula von der Leyen, Josep Borrell, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Jens Stoltenberg, Emmanuel Macron, Mario Draghi — and, of course, behind the scenes, the billionaires who funded those leaders’ political careers (via political donations, plus those billionaires’ news-media and their other mass-public-opinion-forming organizations). These key agents will no doubt be paid well, in their retirements, regardless of what the public might think of them after their ‘service to the public’ is over.

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Exporting Religious Hatred to England

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A mob vandalised a Hindu temple in UK's Leicester. Twitter

Not a place hitting the main news channels often, Leicester is a small town of 250,000 inhabitants about a hundred miles north of London and 40 miles east of Birmingham the UK’s second largest city.

But an imported ideology is now the cause of religious violence that has profoundly affected Leicester’s ethnic community of South Asians.  This Hindutva ideology represents a belief in the transcendence of Hinduism and its culture.

Leicester prides itself as a city of tolerance and diversity where different religions and races all live together in relative harmony — a sort of ‘live and let live and mind your own business’ philosophy that had worked until recently.  But under the surface simmering tensions burst forth recently.  The trigger was a South Asia Cup cricket match between Indian and Pakistan held in Dubai and won by India.

Couple Hindutva with India’s win and groups of Hindu young men were keen to demonstrate their might, and did so on isolated young Muslims.  The latter then formed their own groups ready for revenge.

Where were the police one might ask.  Well, a couple of beaten up Asian teenagers did not register as exhibiting anything more than random teenage violence.  They were slow to react and did not discuss the ominous truth of religion as the prime mover behind the violence.

Civic leaders on both sides are now trying to quell the attacks.  But the damage has been done and the seeds of ill-feeling have been sown within the community meaning Hindus vis-a-vis Muslims and vice versa. 

India’s per capita GDP is higher than for Pakistan or Bangladesh, the two countries bordering it, which together constitute the subcontinent.  Thus the three countries are similar culturally.  The next question to ask is why then is India hugging the bottom on the 2020 World Happiness Report, next to ill-fated war-torn places like Yemen.  India is ranked 144 while its rival and neighbor Pakistan, although lower in per capita GDP, ranks a shocking (for India) 66.  Bangladesh also ranks much higher than India at 107, despite its devastating floods and typhoons.

Perhaps the answer lies in the pervasive hate that is the currency of the ruling BJP (Bharatia Janata Party), a currency spent liberally during general elections to the detriment of the Congress Party, which has stood for a secular India since independence.

But hate yields more votes as BJP leaders Norendra Modi and Amit Shah know well.  After all, they came to power via the destruction of the historic nearly five century old Babri Mosque, built on a Hindu holy site in an effort to ally Hindus by an astute Babur, the Mughal whose hold on India, just wrested from the Muslim Pathan kings, was still weak.  It worked for Babur then; its destruction worked for the BJP in the 21st century

Has India become more civilized since? 

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Giorgia Meloni: a return to Mussolini’s Italy?

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Image source: giorgiameloni.it

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of far-right political parties across Europe. They have managed to use the widespread discontent from society with the values and functioning of democracy to establish strong footholds in many countries, including those that were thought to be immune to such radicalisation. The reach of the far right does not recognise boundaries, and it is not a new phenomenon either. It has had a considerable historical role in Latin America, in Indonesia, Japan, Australia, Myanmar, India, South Africa, Germany, Italy, the United States, and more recently in Turkey, Brazil and Hungary which have suffered serious damage to their democratic rules and institutions. It is in this context that the election of Giorgia Meloni in Italy as the possible next Prime Minister.

Italy has a long history with fascism and far-right extremism that has forever characterised Italian politics. Italy’s history after the WWII can largely be blamed for this slow but steady radicalisation of its political landscape. Unlike Germany that went through a serious process of denazification after allied victory, Italy was not cleared of vestiges of fascism. After 1945, and with the emergence of the USSR as a rival power, the allies focused their attention and efforts on fighting Communist USSR. Italy, surprisingly, had a considerable number of communist supporters, therefore fascism was seen as something positive in the fight of USSR ideology expansionism. Fascism was good to fight communism, and allies turned a blind eye to it, and the creation of the Italian Social Movement (MSI) in 1946 did not raise any red flags. The party managed to become the fourth largest in Italy in 20 years.

The woman who will become Italy’s next Prime Minister leads a conservative party that can be traced back to the MSI: The Brothers of Italy, whose logo revives the MSI emblem. Meloni´s victory should be read against the backdrop of recent triumphs for the far right elsewhere in Europe. In France, despite the loss of Le Pen in the presidential election, the share of popular vote shifted the French political centre to the right; in Sweden the Sweden Democrats are expected to play a major role in defining Swedish politics after having won the second largest share of seats at the general election earlier in September; the same in happening in Hungary and Poland.

This revival of far-right extremism is not new. The collapse of the USSR allowed formerly dormant far right movements to flourish. This resurgence should  also be understood as the inability of centre and centre-left parties to connect with voters, and to appear attractive. Italy’s recent economic crisis has made Italians particularly susceptible to anti-establishment ideas. Italy was one of the countries that suffered the most during the pandemic specially fairly early on: Lots of people died, a lot of businesses had to close down, Italy found it hard to get support from the rest of the European Union. Meloni and her coalition capitalised this discontent. Meloni has chosen to fight the same enemies as other populist leaders: the LGBTQ+ community; immigrants, the European Union, Muslims; former Italian leaders and multiculturalism. She echoes Mussolini’s natalist obsession; Volume Mussolini argued that the Western race was in danger of extinction by other races of colour, Meloni has focused on ethnic substitution, defined as the loss of Italian identity as a result of globalisation and uncontrolled mass immigration fostered by the European Union. This has translated into harsh xenophobic policies.

Meloni’s election ironically coincide with the 100th anniversary of the March on Rome in October 1922 that brought Mussolini to power. 100 years later Italians. May have elected its first woman to become a Prime Minister, while this represents a break with the past and it symbolises a good step forward in theory, she also represents one of Italy’s worst chapters in its past: Mussolini’s Fascism. Meloni was a former MSI activist, and she is likely to form a government deeply rooted in populism and fascism, are very dangerous combination for contemporary European politics. We should not also allow to be fooled by her election as a woman. She has followed a similar path to Marie Le Pen called gender washing. She has adopted unknown threatening image as a female politician to mask the force of her extremism. For someone who is not familiar with Italian politics, her victory could be read as the triumph of female empowerment and gender equality. Throughout her campaign, she posed as a defender of women, however, her party has rolled back on women’s rights, especially access to abortion.

Gender washing is particularly predominant among right wing parties, as they do a better job at promoting women. Women like Meloni and Le Pen Are protected by the elite, because they support, the very pillars of male power and privilege, these women very often behave in the same way as the men in power. Meloni’s slogan God, Fatherland, and Family echoes the man-dominated and conservative model dating back to the Italy of Mussolini in the 1920s. Meloni’s politics should become more important than her gender, especially as she does not advance women’s empowerment, on the contrary, her victory means a drawback for women’s rights in Italy. Meloni is simply one more far-right candidate that has made it to power.

This should be worrying for Europe as a whole. There has been a constant failure to address the growing threat of the far-right movement at national and on a European level. In recent years, we have seen a slow and steady shift of European politics to the right, and the normalisation of a less inclusive and more racist and discriminatory discourse. This shift to the right should be seen as a ticking time bomb for the pillars of democracy. The pandemic and the current war in Ukraine have not helped the case for democracy.

There are rising living costs in the continent that are undermining governments and European institutions, and making people feel less satisfied with the way their countries are handling these issues. Crises have always been excellent breeding grounds for extremism, whatever political ideology it is. People are more scared during a crisis, allowing the politics or fear to work, and swing voters towards far-right extremists in particular. People that are more likely to vote for far-right alternatives, favour certainty and stability amidst societal changes. Change is perceived as a threat to conservative voters. Under current conditions, there are enough real or perceived changes for extremist to put the blame on. This is one of the greatest paradoxes and dangers of populism and extremism: it often identifies real problems, but seeks to replace them with something worse, the slow and almost imperceptible destruction of democratic values, institutions, and liberties.

The irony behind this is that although populists are usually extremely bad at running a country, the blame will never be placed on them. Populist leaders consolidate support by creating enemies and dividing the population between “us” and “them”. Failure in public policies, inability to provide viable solutions to crises will never be attributed to their elected officials, but rather to the enemies they have decided to use as scapegoats. In this way, as populist governments are unlikely to solve crises, things will eventually worsen, and more crises are inevitable;  meaning more fear is  also unavoidable. This creates a vicious circle that provides populists and extremists with further opportunities for power.

If there is something to be learnt from the current shift in international politics to the right, is the fact that voting behaviour differs from country to country. All politics is local. Voters are influenced by charismatic leaders, local events, regional issues etc. However, when it comes to the rise of extremism, common ground can be found between countries: the existence of a political, economic, or social crisis. Some far-right narratives have been able to cross borders, namely, anti-immigration and white and male supremacism. The Europe of today may be very dissimilar to the Europe of the near future should far-right movement continue to attain power in most countries. Far-right populist parties are a pan-European concern that should be addressed if we want democracy to survive in the long run.

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