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Geopolitics or “Pegasus Case”: What Stops Dialogue between Madrid and Catalonia

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In 2022 the Spanish coalition government headed by Pedro Sanchez, leader of the socialist party, has faced a host of interconnected challenges on internal and external tracks alike. Home agenda which includes socio-economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and a new round of talks with Catalonia regarding its status seems to be put aside amid a demanding geopolitical situation in Europe. Meanwhile, the Spanish PM seeks to maintain support of the regional parties in parliament. However, the “Pegasus case” which sparked outrage in Catalonia has complicated fragile relations between Madrid and the autonomy.

Divisions between the central Spanish government and Catalonia have long history, however the issue has become urgent because of two recent factors. Firstly, the governing coalition of PSOE (Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party) and Unidas Podemos (United We Can) formed following the results of the November 2019 general elections is short of the parliamentary majority. Such a situation increased the role of smaller regional parties, especially from Catalonia and the Basque Country. Secondly, local elections in Catalonia held in February 2021 resulted in a coalition government formed by the nationalist parties — Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya (Republican Left of Catalonia) and Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia). Both are aimed at holding another independence referendum.

Catalonia seeks new referendum but talks remain stalled

As a prominent Russian expert in Spanish studies S.M. Khenkin argues, the Catalan desire to hold a new public voting on its status remains intact despite the fact that the 2021 regional elections were taken by PSOE. The socialists failed to rally other parties behind their agenda and eventually let the nationalist parties form the autonomous government.

One of the main goals on the programme of Pere Aragones, new leader of the autonomy, is to reach an agreement with Madrid about holding another referendum on the status of Catalonia. The one in 2017 showed mixed results as over 90% voted for independence but a turnout rate reached only 43%. At the same time, Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez, who is facing a need to safeguard his positions among the electorate and to maintain parliamentary support of the Catalan forces, tries to promote talks with the autonomy.

Successful interaction with the region will allow to portray himself as a leader capable of resolving a protracted political dispute. Nevertheless, the negotiations could not happen in 2020 because of COVID-19. The first meeting between the Spanish PM and the Catalan leader was held only in June 2021 and followed by a subsequent round of talks in September. However, after a short thaw came another long break. The reason was the absence of a plan for a new round. The sides have put the blame for stalling the process on each other, although, there are certain geopolitical difficulties with an imminent effect on the Spanish agenda.

2 major geopolitical challenges of Spain in 2022

Since the PSOE — Unidas Podemos coalition government was formed in 2019 Pedro Sanchez has dealt with a mixture of internal and external issues. In 2022 Spain has faced another two major geopolitical challenges that left the Prime Minister with limited economic resources and little room to political maneuvre.

Firstly, Spain had to respond to the Ukrainian crisis which set the need to act in solidarity with the European Union. It involved imposing sanctions on the Russian Federation and supporting Ukraine. Madrid was under severe pressure due to its inactive participation in providing Kiev with weapons. Following weeks of diplomatic calls and a visit of the Spanish PM to Ukraine in April 2022, Spain sent military assistance worth 31 ml euros in May. It was welcomed by Brussels. Later that month Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited Madrid to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Spanish accession to the alliance. Talking to local media outlet ABC he avoided responding to a provocative question concerning the supplies of Spanish arms to Ukraine and praised the Kingdom for its assistance in a humanitarian dimension.

The second challenge was the energy crisis and increased energy insecurity against the backdrop of deteriorating relations between Algeria and Morocco. As of April 2022, Algeria accounted for 43% of gas imported by Spain, US obtained the second place with 14,2%, then went Nigeria with 11,5% and Russia with 8,9%. Additionally, Algeria is among the top 5 most important energy suppliers for the EU. However, the fact that Madrid resold hydrocarbons to Morocco sparked concern in Algeria.

In autumn 2021 a protracted conflict between the two Arab states entered in a new phase. Rabat was accused of sponsoring terrorism and causing bushfires in the neighbouring country. Not only did Algeria sever diplomatic ties with Rabat, it also refused to prolong a contract of gas transit via Morocco shifting to the Medgaz pipeline which goes through the Mediterranean Sea bypassing Rabat. Furthermore, in spring 2022 Algeria suspended the friendship treaty with Spain and threatened to cut its imports to the Kingdom, if it continued to resell gas to other states.

External problems made P. Sanchez pay higher attention to the show of solidarity with the EU as Madrid is heavily dependent on the European post-COVID recovery funds in implementing its socio-economic projects. Therefore, the governing coalition postponed new talks with Catalonia referring to the lack of time and resources to prepare its position and agree on the agenda. Geopolitical situation was accompanied by a number of protracted internal policy issues.

“Pegasus” made Madrid turn its eyes to Catalonia again

When P. Sanchez took office in winter 2020 the breakout of Coronavirus put on hold all plans concerning high-level talks between Madrid and Catalonia. The first meeting took place only in summer 2021. As it turned out later the sides had only 6 months to resolve their problems, since in February 2022 the Russian special military operation in Ukraine grabbed public attention putting aside the majority of domestic issues not only in Spain but in many other European countries.

Additionally, positions of the Catalan nationalists in 2022 became weaker than before. According to the research published in El Mundo, as of March, only 38% of Catalans supported independence—the lowest number since 2014. Meanwhile, unionists accounted for 53%. Such data revealed that the citizens of the autonomy were reluctant to see their region independent and without state protection during difficult socio-economic times in Europe. Additionally, the results pointed at the fact that more people tended to trust Madrid as a guarantor of well-being amid challenges.

Such figures could have allowed P. Sanchez to focus fully on solidarity with Europe and the 2022 NATO summit in Madrid, however, in spring 2022 it was revealed that telephone conversations of high-ranking Catalan politicians had been wiretapped during 2017–2020. The situation was dubbed the “Pegasus case” from the name of the software used to track phone calls. Later Pedro Sanchez and Defence Minister Margarita Robles were reported to have been wiretapped as well.

The situation triggered huge discontent among the major Catalan parties. Both Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya and Junts per Catalunya announced their plans to stop supporting the PSOE — Unidas Podemos coalition in the parliament. In the meantime, the National Intelligence Committee of Spain acknowledged wiretapping of 20 Catalan politicians but emphasized that the actions had been taken according to the relevant rulings of the Spanish Constitutional Court. P. Sanchez faced the need to reduce mounting tensions that put his government on the brink of losing vital votes of the two Catalan parties. He made two steps.

Firstly, the PM used annual Cercle d’Economia (Economic Conference of Entrepreneurs) held in Barcelona in early May to have first face-to-face talks with his Catalan counterpart in 2022. On the sidelines of the event P. Sanchez and P. Aragones agreed to bridge the rifts via a dialogue and a “fair investigation”. The head of the Spanish government stated the importance of preserving the political partnership between the Catalan parties and the PSOE — Unidas Podemos coalition needed for the stable development of the Kingdom in a difficult period. Furthermore, P. Sanchez stressed the need to ensure “the coexistence of Catalonia and the rest of Spain” in order to resolve emerging divisions jointly.

Secondly, Pedro Sanchez made a concession to the Catalan side. On May 10, 2022 head of the National Intelligence Committee Paz Esteban was replaced by Esperanza Casteleiro. It sparked discontent among the right-wing opposition, as in the eyes of the conservatives the PM succumbed to the pressure of nationalists. At the same time, Catalonia was not satisfied and called for further investigation. The “Pegasus case” caused severe damage to the dialogue between Madrid and Catalonia. It also cast shadow on fragile trust established by previous efforts of Sanchez and Aragones.

Why is it difficult for Madrid and Catalonia to continue talks?

In addition to geopolitical challenges and increased mistrust after the “Pegasus case” Madrid and Catalonia alike face difficulties in elaborating concrete positions. Both governments are run by coalitions within which partners have different views on how to solve the Catalan crisis. Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya is more flexible and ready to negotiate a broad number of topics with Madrid, whereas Junts per Catalunya has a more rigid stance and aims mainly at holding another referendum in the region. At the same time, the views of PSOE and Unidas Podemos on the way how to deal with the autonomy also vary. If the socialists are for a consistent dialogue accompanied by well-balanced concessions, their partner does not rule out the idea of holding a nation-wide referendum on the status of Catalonia.

It results in a significant discrepancy between the positions of both sides and their expectations from the dialogue. For this reason, the two parties have failed on numerous occasions to hammer out a schedule of consultations and the agenda of talks. In summer 2021 Madrid already made several concessions to Catalonia that led to a thaw between the two sides and boosted the talks. However, the “Pegasus case” complicated bilateral relations and weakened the central government’s position. In order to move on the dialogue Madrid should place Catalonia beyond any kind of a geopolitical situation. Furthermore, right-wing Partido Popular (People’s Party), the second largest force in the Spanish parliament, should also be involved in the negotiations.

Additionally, frequent appealing to geopolitical threats in order to explain home policy failures indicates the absence of common goals to rally a wide range of political movements. Such an approach has only short-term effectiveness. If the COVID-19 pandemic has not formed broad parliamentary consensus on key domestic issues, it is unlikely that the ongoing Ukrainian crisis would become a uniting factor for all Spanish parties.

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Victor Orban’s eyes may be bigger than his stomach

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When Prime Minister Victor Orban recently spelled out his vision of Hungary’s frontiers, he joined a club of expansionist leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, and members of the Indian power elite who define their countries’ borders in civilisational rather than national terms.

Speaking on Romanian territory in the predominantly ethnic Hungarian town of Baile Tusnad in Transylvania, a onetime Austro-Hungarian possession home to a Hungarian minority, Mr. Orban echoed the worldviews of Messrs. Xi and Putin.

Those views are on display in the South China Sea and Ukraine, as well as in statements by the Russian leader about other former Soviet republics.

It’s a worldview also embraced by members of India’s Hindu nationalist elite that endorses a country’s right to expand its internationally recognized borders to lands inhabited by their ethnic kin or territories and waters that historically were theirs.

Unlike the Russian and Chinese leaders, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been careful to avoid public support for the civilisationalist concept of Akhand Bharat embraced by his ideological alma mater.

The concept envisions an India that stretches from Afghanistan to Myanmar and encompasses nuclear-armed Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives.

Mr. Modi’s silence hasn’t prevented Mohan Bhagwat, head of the powerful ultra-Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sang (RSS) or National Volunteer Organization, from recently predicting that Akhand Bharat would become a reality within 15 years.

Mr. Modi has been a member of the RSS since the late 1960s. However, he is believed to have last referred to the Akhand Bharat concept in an interview in 2012 when, as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he suggested that “Hindustan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh should rejoin.”

However, in contrast to his more recent silence, Mr. Modi has approached Indian Muslims, the world’s largest minority and its largest Muslim minority, in much the same way that Mr. Orban envisions a racially and religiously pure Hungary.

The Hungarian prime minister sparked outrage in his July speech when he rejected a “mixed-race world” defined as a world “in which European peoples are mixed together with those arriving from outside Europe.”

Mr. Orban asserted that mixed-race countries “are no longer nations: They are nothing more than conglomerations of peoples” and are no longer part of what he sees as “the Western world.” Mr. Orban stopped short of identifying those countries, but the United States and Australia would fit the bill. 

Romanians may be more concerned about Mr. Orban’s racial remarks than his territorial ambitions, described by one Romanian Orban watcher as a “little man having pipe dreams.”

Romanians may be right. Mr. Orban’s ability to militarily assert his claims is far more restricted than those of his Russian and Chinese counterparts. Nevertheless, one underestimates at one’s peril.

Mr. Orban shares Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi’s resentment of perceived historical wrongs that need to be rectified irrespective of international law and the consequences of a world whose guardrails are dictated by might rather than the rule of law.

His speech seems to promise to reverse what he sees as an unjust diktat. His revanchism may explain why Russia’s alteration in Ukraine of national boundaries by force doesn’t trouble him.

Mr. Orban left no doubt that his definition of the Hungarian motherland included Transylvania and other regions in the Carpathian Basin beyond Hungary’s borders that ethnic Hungarians populate.

Insisting that the world owed Hungary, which eventually would call in its debt, Mr. Orban asserted that his country was driven by the notion “that more has been taken from us than given to us, that we have submitted invoices that are still unpaid… This is our strongest ambition.”

Mr. Orban implicitly suggested a revision or cancellation of the 1920 Treaty of Trianon, which deprived Hungary of much of its pre-World War I territory.

Two months earlier, Hungarian President Katalin Novak ruffled diplomatic feathers when she posted a picture of herself climbing a mountain peak in Romania’s Alba County, standing by a disputed milestone painted in Hungarian colours.

At the time, Ms. Novak advised Romanian Foreign Minister Bogdan Aurescu that it was her duty to represent “all Hungarians, regardless of whether they live inside or outside the borders” – a claim Romania rejected.

Mr. Orban’s grievance and racially driven nationalism may be one reason the Hungarian leader has been Europe’s odd man out in refusing to sanction Russia for its invasion of Ukraine fully.

In a break with European Union policy, Hungary’s foreign minister Péter Szijjarto met his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on the eve of Mr. Orban’s speech to request additional gas supplies.

In contrast to the EU, which wants to remove Russia as a supplier of its energy, Mr. Orban insisted that “we do not want to stop getting energy from Russia, we simply want to stop getting it exclusively from Russia.”

Mr. Orban’s speech is unlikely to ease the task of Tibor Navracsics, Hungary’s regional development minister and a former EU commissioner. Mr. Navracsics arrived in Brussels this week to persuade the EU to release €15 billion in covid recovery funds amid an unprecedented disciplinary process that could lead to the suspension of EU funding because of Hungarian violations of the rule of law.

So far, Mr. Orban’s support of Russia has isolated him in Europe with the de facto demise of the Visegrad 4 or V4 in its current form in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine and the threat of an economic recession.

Grouping the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, and Slovakia, the Visegrad 4 were united in their opposition to EU migration and rejection of what the Hungarian leader termed Europe’s “internal empire-building attempts,” a reference to the European Commission’s efforts to stop moves that hollow out Central European democracy.

Leaving Mr. Orban isolated, Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger has pledged to use his current six-month presidency of the European Council to return the Visegrad 4 to the roots of its founding in 1991 as the four countries emerged from communism: respect for democracy and a commitment to European integration.

If successful, Mr. Heger’s V4 will likely be a V3 with Hungary on the outs.

Said Mateusz Gniazdowski, an analyst at the Warsaw-based Centre for Eastern Studies: “Attempts to ideologically use the V4 brand harm mutual trust and don’t contribute to building a strong Central Europe in the EU.”

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The End of History, Delayed: The EU’s Role in Defining the Post-War Order

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While the world is following the dramatic unfolding of the Russian aggression against Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Europe needs to start elaborating its vision for the post-war world. While a new Yalta might be needed, we all should realise that a peaceful world order has never existed outside the European Union. This in itself grants the EU the credibility – and responsibility – for arranging the post-war framework that secures the peaceful future of the continent.

By Dr.Maria Alesina and Francesco Cappelletti*

In the interconnected international society, war is not only a horrific and painful but also irrational choice. It is a zero-sum game, which sets into motion the domino effect of global repercussions. However, rational considerations have little to do with what stands behind the ongoing military attack on Ukraine. Russia’s war is not limited to Ukraine or aimed at a regime change to strengthen regional influence (as realists would say), nor does it represent an attempt to reinforce specific strategic interests (as a cognitivist analysis would suggest). It has emerged as something beyond traditional disputes: it is, as a matter of fact, an ideological war against the West. More than anything, it is Huntington’s “clash of civilizations”, although driven not by ideology or religion but by the two conflicting standpoints on human life – as a value and a non-value. This fundamental clash is happening now on the Ukrainian soil, and the battle is as fierce as it can possibly get.

The propaganda-driven “Rus-zism” rhetoric, missing any solid ideological basis or constructive meaning, consists of an overt anti-Western narrative aiming to establish a multi-polar world order and a vaguely defined concept of Russia’s “greatness”, entrenched in the shreds of evidence given by altered revision of events, such as the Great Patriotic War. A war that, in the eyes of the Russian establishment, has never ended. In the anti-Western rhetoric, the corroborating factor is a series of facts, events, convictions, beliefs, interests that support the leitmotif of the inevitability of “blocks”, an enemy, the “others”. A heritage of the Cold War. All this is grounded in the historical super Troika of the Russia’s foreign policy: fear of external threats, dispersed economic and political inefficiency, and focus on securing citizens’ support – by all means, ranging from propaganda to political repressions. This is a sheer exercise in power without purpose, control without vision, projected both internally and externally. This dynamic, although never fully dissipated, has been re-gaining momentum starting with Putin’s speech at the 2007 Munich Security Conference.

Today, in mid-2022, Russian aggression in Ukraine is only growing in atrocities and cynicism. In contrast, the EU politics still remain a palliative medicine, by definition unprepared to dealing with the concept of war. Political crises in several Member States – Italy, France, Estonia, Bulgaria – risk becoming a further destabilizing factor preventing the EU from fully standing up against Putin’s war plans. Meanwhile, the Europeans are becoming increasingly concerned with the upcoming ‘Russian winter’, recession, global food shortages, and a new migration crisis. As much as citizens advocated for support to Ukraine in the beginning, soon they might start demanding peace at any cost – most likely, Ukraine’s cost. This is the trap that Russia is orchestrating.

However, any simple, although desperately needed, ceasefire agreement risks only deepening the problem and postponing the solution. It will be a matter or years, if not months, when Russia restarts its aggression, possibly better prepared the next time around. The somewhat belated understanding of this simple truth should prevent us from re-engaging into the dilemma of prioritizing short-lived comfort and material gain over long-term solutions based on our fundamental, “civilizational” priorities. We need to remember that Europe’s prosperity has resulted from a prolonged period of peace – not vice versa. Those who threaten the peace, by definition threaten our growth and sustainability. Alongside building up its strategic autonomy for the 21st century, Europe must be prepared to do what it takes to secure a new long-term peaceful world order – not simply patch the old one.

Given that the ‘Russian factor’ will not disappear even after the overt military conflict is over, the Cold War II stands in the midst of diplomatic challenges anticipated for the post-war scenario. On the one hand, as Russia has acquired the official status of the world’s villain, dethroning China from this role, it will continue to face some extent of isolation. Regaining any level of trust will require years, and Moscow will struggle to find a credible audience to speak to when trying to redefine its external relations, while having to deal with a prolonged recession and a technological slowdown never experienced since 1991. On the other hand, without being naïve, we cannot expect any substantial regime changes to happen in Moscow. For centuries, the narrative ‘Russia vs. the West’ has constituted the very central axis of the national public discourse, even within the liberally-minded opposition circles. Such long-standing trends do not change quickly, if ever.

Although no notions of trustworthy diplomacy will bring Russia to the international negotiation tables for a long time, the need to guarantee security goes beyond this conflict and its territorial or ideological implications. The only viable solution is to find a way to contain Russia within a binding and comprehensive international framework. This means a pragmatic approach is needed in developing untouchable geopolitical, diplomatic, and security-related boundaries of the new order. The exact same boundaries that kept the first Cold War “cold”, with the difference that this time one of the great powers involved is – to use Kennedy’s word – declining.

The results of the potential Kyiv-Moscow talks will largely depend on the West’s willingness to avoid grey zones in the future security settlements. It is a matter of responsibility, especially for the EU, to provide a forum to assess, judge, clarify, evaluate, measure, and pragmatically set limits of the new post-war security system. While the US is interested, first and foremost, in slowly weakening Russia politically and economically, Europe’s long-term concern consists primarily in preventing its giant neighbour from disrupting the very basic principles of coexistence on the continent. A zero-trust model should be applied to Russia, while a new paradigm for debates should be developed from scratch: there is no more “balance of power” and “deterrence” to fit into the discourse. The world is now divided into nations that either care or not about commonly accepted principles, rights, and, above all, about the value of human life. The end of history, in 2022, is farther away than expected.

*Dr Maria Alesina and Francesco Cappelletti are Policy and Research Officers at the European Liberal Forum. Dr Alesina holds MA degrees in Political Science and EU Studies obtained in Ukraine, Germany and Belgium and a PhD degree in interdisciplinary cultural studies from Ghent University. She specializes in EU foreign, social, and cultural affairs. Francesco Cappelletti holds an MA in International Relations from the University of Florence and MA in World Politics from MGIMO. Member of Center for Cybersecurity in Florence. He focuses on cybersecurity, digitisation, Russian-Western relations and the relation between sustainability and technologies.

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“No longer analyze Asia with European eyes”, says French expert in Bucharest conference

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A 2-day academic hybrid conference organized in Bucharest at mid-July by MEPEI (Middle East Economic and Political Institute) and EuroDefense Romania, two Bucharest-based think-tanks, was the perfect venue to learn about the latest analyses on economic, geopolitical and security topics related to the Middle East and Asia, during which China was mentioned by all speakers as clearly playing a role in today’s international order. Entitled “Middle East in Quest for Security, Stability, and Economic Identity”, the conference was the 8th in a series of international conferences that annually gather well-known experts from all over the world to present their analyses and research on highly debated topics such as terrorism, Middle East, emerging Asian countries, the rising China, to which this year a new topic was added: the conflict in Ukraine.

Interesting ideas derived from the speakers’ presentations.

Adrian Severin, former Romanian minister of foreign affairs and EU parliamentarian, pointed out that “the conflict in Ukraine is actually one between Russia and the West, but economic sanctions never stop wars, and they even may lead to global disaster”. Severin considers it to be more and more difficult for NATO to defend its allies, with so many countries relying on NATO, and on the US, for their national protection, including non-European countries such as Saudi Arabia and Israel. When it comes to Asia, Severin sees “China to have a first rank role in shaping the world order.”

Teodor Meleșcanu, another former Romanian minister of foreign affairs, stressed that “Asia has the majority of the world’s population and lots and resources, and the future of Asia will assume the future of our civilizations.” Meleșcanu explained that “China wants to stabilize the world and to forge alliances, but not to fight with the West. Chinese trade is not interested in confrontation with Western partners by making alliance with Russia and it’s obvious why – because the West means more than 700 million people whereas Russia means only 114 million.” Meleșcanu suggested that the optimal solution in international relations is to operate with regional organizations in order to have dialogue, not directly with “the big boys in the garden.” Meleșcanu also encourages never-ending dialogue between the US-Russia-China, as the current situation proves it, in order to prevent such events that destabilize the world. He believes that the principles in Norman Angell’s The Great Illusion will always apply, as war does not actually mean conquering territories.  

Lily Ong, host of the Geopolitics360 live show in Singapore, confirmed that regional organizations are vital for dialogue: “Had not it have been for ASEAN, Singapore would have been on the menu, not at the table.”

Foad Izadi from the University of Tehran informed that Iran signed a 25-year agreement with China, and a separate one with Russia, and said “Iran would welcome such 25-year agreements with European countries. It’s Europe’s decision if they really want to follow the US decisions, but the US interests are often not aligned with the European interests”, concluded Izadi.

Vasily Kuznetsov from the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow reminded the audience that Russia and the West cooperated very well in Libya, in fighting against ISIS in Syria, and expressed his confusion about Europe’ militarized approach towards Russia.  He stressed that “the current international situation will result into the strengthening of Asian centres of global power and global economics. China, as well as India and the Middle East as a collective actor become new great powers directly linked to each other, without the West.” At the same time, Kuznetsov sees “for China, a dilemma between pragmatic economic interest and global political ambitions, and for India, a choice between regional and global ambitions outside South Asia”, and he wondered whether “China can have a realistic foreign policy in the Middle East which  is facing issues of internal reconfiguration, sovereignty and security.” For the US, Kuznetsov sees the biggest challenge in the effort “to preserve leadership without more engagement, to make American politics more successful and to combine values and pragmatism.”

 “The rise of China is beneficial not only for China but for entire Asia”, believes Yao Jinxiang from China Institute of International Studies (CIIS) in Beijing. “The rise of Asia will rebalance the world.” Yao also stressed that “people are often biased about Asia. Let us not forget that, apart from the wars led by the US in Asia, Asia has been stable with no war for a long time. The self-control of the Asia countries ensures stability. It looks that it’s easier to attract Europe in a war than Asia. Asian countries try to solve problems by consensus. For example, China, Japan and South Korea step back because ASEAN is the leader. On the other hand, China has always been defensive. China does not want to claim hegemony or to replace the US, or another great power.” Yao equally explained the two terms used to refer to the same region: Asia-Pacific and Indo-Pacific: “Asia-Pacific reflects economic relations, whereas Indo-Pacific rather mirrors the political and military relations”, and he stressed that “China does not want to claim hegemony in this world or to replace the US or another great power. China is only interested in prosperity around the world and it watches carefully the Global Development Index and the Global Security Index”.

Pierre Fournié, French expert on Asia from SUFFREN International think-tank declared the Belt and Road Initiative, formerly One-Belt, One-Road (OBOR), to be “a magnificent project that could be pivotal in Europe” because “trade has always been a peaceful and fruitful relation among countries.” Fournié made clear that the war in Ukraine, inflation, migration, social discontent in Europe and the ongoing reconfiguration of the US society create conditions for Asian nations to become key partners in the post-war reshaping of Europe. “Thus, BRI, or the Indonesian Global Maritime Fulcrum are magnificent assets. Fournié also suggested that ”the current economic model creates tensions, and it’s time for  people to apply mutual aid and to unite to create coo-petition, a term coined by himself, and not competition. He recommended people to “no longer analyze Asia with European eyes.”

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