ASEM a good opportunity for promoting Asia-Europe connectivity
Chinese development and the impressive results of the Belt and Road Initiative are continuously attracting European interest. This makes the 2018 Brussels Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), being attended by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, as perhaps more important than previous ones.
It offers an opportunity for the EU to demonstrate to its Asian partners that it is able to promote its own specific policy for mutually-beneficial cooperation, called the EU-Asia connectivity strategy.
It acknowledges the role of China in contributing to the growth of Asian GDP, and, to a smaller extent, Europe. Now, however, it wants to create better conditions for working together.
For example, European policy-makers have introduced a screening mechanism for Chinese investments that focuses on alleged security dangers. They are also demanding more investment and acquisition opportunities for European companies in Asia, creating what they call a "level playing field."
In that regard, Li's presence in Brussels is meaningful. He is finding a new opportunity to explain the very nature of the Belt and Road Initiative and appease rising concerns that have been articulated in recent European Commission documents.
To start with, the Belt and Road Initiative has to be understood as an inclusive project. Although China's contribution to connectivity takes the lion's share, the participation of other countries is highly encouraged. That is not a Chinese political cliché but the reality.
To better understand this, here is a simple example. Several train services are connecting Chinese cities with European ones. Although they reach Europe almost full with commodities, they return home half-empty, even though China is seeking to import more products from Europe and other regions.
President Xi Jinping set specific targets concerning this in his keynote speech during the Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation in May 2017. It is now the turn of European member states to refresh their export strategies and find new destination markets within China and beyond – after all, before reaching Chinese markets, trains have to pass through countries such as Russia and Kazakhstan.
Additionally, the level playing field demanded by the EU does not cause frustration in Beijing. Actually, it's in line with the opening-up and reform phase that China is gradually and systematically undergoing.
With the passage of time, more foreign companies are able to further invest in China and even increase their ownership shares in some sectors of the economy. This had been unthinkable a few years ago, but not any longer.
One of the problems in Europe is knowledge of Chinese affairs is limited and remains Westernized. If more attention is paid to the Chinese policies themselves, useful insights are offered.
It is not always easy for China and the EU to find common ground on investment projects and acquisitions. This is not surprising, nor is it necessarily worrying. Business interests are often contradictory as enterprises aim at increasing their profits. The theme goes beyond China and the EU as enterprises of different nationality compete to win new contracts.
What perhaps matters more is that connectivity should generally be seen as a mutual goal. Prosperity in the Asia-Europe region does not constitute the privilege of a single player. It is a shared good.
In fostering connectivity between Asia and Europe, China has already employed its own narrative that has been largely successful. Europe's response – although belated and formulated as a needed response rather than as an original plan – is welcome.
China not only encourages the participation of other countries but is aware it cannot work alone and, indeed, does not want to do so. It already has a constructive experience in the region by complementing the Belt and Road Initiative with projects such as the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union. Despite the conventional wisdom in the West, the BRI and the Eurasian Economic Union intersect in several fields.
All in all, with his participation in the 2018 ASEM, Li Keqiang is sending a clear message for closer economic collaboration and respect for multilateralism.
Of course, the insistence on multilateralism does not mean bilateral ties are less significant. Li also arranged meetings with the leaders of the Netherlands and Belgium in Amsterdam and Brussels respectively. Both these countries envision additional benefits by participating in the Belt and Road Initiative, and this is yet another indication that China is not as isolated as its critics say.
(Source_title：ASEM a good opportunity for promoting Asia-Europe connectivity)