It would be difficult to overstate the importance of Xi Jinping’s visits to Rome, Paris and Monaco last week. In bringing his much-remarked Belt and Road Initiative to the center of Europe, the Chinese president has faced the Continent with the most fundamental question it will have to resolve in coming decades: Where does it stand as a trans–Atlantic partner with the U.S. and — as of Xi’s European tour — the western flank of the Eurasian landmass? The simplicities of the postwar order, to put the point another way, have just begun to pass into history.
In Rome, the populist government of Premier Giuseppe Conte brought Italy into China’s ambitious plan to connect East Asia and Western Europe via a multitude of infrastructure projects stretching from Shanghai to Lisbon and beyond. The memorandum of understanding Xi and Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio signed calls for joint development of roads, railways, bridges, airports, seaports, energy projects and telecommunications systems. Along with the MoU, Chinese investors signed 29 agreements worth $2.8 billion.
Italy is the first Group of 7 nation to commit to China’s BRI strategy and the first among the European Union’s founding members. It did so two weeks after the European Commission released “EU–China: A Strategic Outlook,” an assessment of China’s swift arrival in Europe that goes straight to the core of the Continent’s ambivalence. Here is the operative passage in the E.C. report:
“China is, simultaneously, in different policy areas, a cooperation partner with whom the E.U. has closely aligned objectives, a negotiating partner with whom the E.U. needs to find a balance of interests, an economic competitor in the pursuit of technological leadership, and a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance.”…
The multipolar transformation that is occurring across the Eurasian continent confirms the industrial and diplomatic cooperation between China and the European continent in spite of strong opposition from the United States.
Xi Jinping’s visit to Europe confirms what many of us have been writing about over the past few months and years, namely, the reality of an ongoing global transformation of a world dominated by the United States to a pluralistic one composed of different powers collectively shaping a multipolar world.
Europe therefore finds itself in fortuitous position, balanced as it is between its old world links to the United States on the one side and the fledgling Eurasian one being ushered in by Russia and China on the other….