EU and Japan play ‘guardians of universal values’ in effort to challenge China’s Belt and Road Initiative
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and EC President Jean-Claude Juncker mark first anniversary of EU-Asia Connectivity scheme with swipes at China. Partners reach out to countries in Balkans and Africa and agree US$65.5 billion development plan
The European Union and Japan are stepping up their efforts to counter China’s Belt and Road Initiative, with their leaders vowing to be “guardians of universal values” such as democracy, sustainability and good governance.
Speaking in Brussels on Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the world’s third-biggest economy would work with the EU to strengthen their transport, energy and digital ties to Africa and the Balkans – key regions for China’s flagship trade and development project.
At a forum to mark the first anniversary of the EU-Asia Connectivity scheme, Abe and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker signed an agreement formalising Japan’s involvement in the Europe-Asia plan that will be backed by a €60 billion (US$65.54 billion) EU guarantee fund, development banks and private investors.
Abe said Japan would ensure that officials from 30 African countries would be trained in sovereign debt management over the next three years, a veiled attack on what Western diplomats claim is China’s debt trap for its belt and road partners.
“The EU and Japan are linked through and through,” Abe said. “The infrastructure we build from now on must be [high] quality infrastructure.
“Whether it be a single road or a single port, when the EU and Japan undertake something, we are able to build sustainable, comprehensive and rules-based connectivity, from the Indo-Pacific to the west Balkans and Africa.”
Japan wants to extend its business reach through its alliance with the EU as its economy slows and geopolitical competition from China takes its toll.
China’s low-key delegation to the forum was led by Guo Xuejun, deputy director general of international affairs at the foreign ministry.
The US was represented by its deputy assistant secretary of state for cyber policy, Robert Strayer, who was in Europe to lobby against Chinese telecoms giant Huawei Technologies and its involvement in fifth-generation telecoms networks.
Abe and Juncker made cybersecurity the highlight of their addresses. Juncker, who will step down from the presidency by the end of October, repeated his attack on China’s trade policies without naming the country.
“Openness is reciprocal, based on high standards of transparency and good governance, especially for public procurement, and equal access to businesses while respecting intellectual property rights,” he said.
European policymakers and businesses have for years complained about China’s refusal to allow foreign companies in without a Chinese joint venture partner, a practice that critics claimed involved forced transfer of intellectual property to the Chinese side.
“One of the keys to successful connectivity is to respect basic rules and common sense,” Juncker said, stressing that EU-Japanese cooperation focused on the “same commitment to democracy, rule of law, freedom and human dignity”.
When the commission proposed improved transport, energy and digital infrastructure links with Asia last year, it denied it was seeking to stymie Chinese ambitions.
The EU plan, which would be backed by additional funds from the EU’s common budget from 2021, private sector loans and development banks, amounted to a response to China’s largesse in much of central Asia and south-eastern Europe, where Beijing has invested billions of dollars.